Extreme dreams are the stuff that startups are made of....apparently. To what end?
I recently re-read a book titled “The Hard Thing about Hard Things.” * Hustle porn? Not exactly; it’s a business book about the hustle.
If you’re into tech titans, you may know of the author, Ben Horowitz, credited as a pioneer in internet technology, a cloud movement original, and revered venture capitalist (all unicorns are beholden to him) with Greylock Partners.
Most of his companies you’ve probably never heard of were sold to others because they were seen as no less than the future. His assertion: It’s great to start a company; it’s hard to run one.
I’ll be dropping some more potentially annoying startup jargon. Bear with me.
We all love those Valley bootstrapping stories, though most of them are actually not relatable and unrealistic for most of us. And then you have the top business journals giving you their “N” attributes of a successful founder that they have observed from researching hundreds of founders. As if one person can encompass all of them.
No room is left for the personal reality - that journey during the average 20 waking hours of an entrepreneur's day - one that most business professors and journalists never actually experience.
What is clear is that dreams are important, but extreme commitment is required to change the world for what one might perceive as for the better. Grit may be that thing that makes it possible, but the reality is that ideation and execution are extreme opposites.
Mr. Horowitz and I can certainly agree on this about entrepreneurship...
A conversation with Marc Andreessen (another legend and founder of a company you might know, LinkedIn) from the book:
Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?”
Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both."
Me (later): Oh, this is normal.
Me: What a relief.
WTF is ideation?
Mixolo is approaching two years since “ideation” (see “A Founder’s Story” for details on the origins of the big idea). According to the experts, you can only define a business as a startup for 3 years. Oh,snap! We better hurry!
Even people like Marc Andreessen and Elon Musk (original partners in the famed and fabled group once called the PayPal mafia) have had to abandon a path and start all over again (aka, the pivot).
I am not a textbook entrepreneur, but I am one nonetheless. Ironically, being a solo founder has a certain stigma attached to it.
Having founded more than one company, I can’t say I have ever taken an idea to this extreme. In fact, the culture shift I am proposing with Mixolo is a formidable uphill climb on that proverbial entrepreneurial journey.
This is my first venture in the B to C (business to consumer) marketplace. How does one take an idea or feeling, identify it as a problem that others may want to solve, and then solve it? And why?
When I decided to address this human “problem” with a business solution, I did not anticipate the polar extremes of acceptance and resistance to a seemingly simple concept as going out alone, hanging out with strangers and hosts making that extra effort including solos as valuable patrons. Solos want to go out and hosts want to fill their seats. I took the challenge to heart and to wallet.
So, where are we?
We’ve recently doubled our member app sign-ups and increased our web subscribers by 25% after some favorable print and TV coverage in our local Beta market (Baltimore, MD). This has been a great boost with virtually no advertising or business development funds. We built it and you came!
We’re ready to get ready to get ready to expand Mixolo.
What does expansion mean? We want to offer more events in more cities. Our near future dream: the continental United States.
Where we've been
We've had our share of night terrors or things that have kept us up at night and won’t make it to the coveted “roadmap" to success. A few...
Which comes first?
We’ve mentioned our no.1 “business problem” before - the chicken and egg dilemma. Which comes first, the members or the events? (More on this in another post).
After Mixolo’s first successful pay event in July 2017, we assumed, prematurely, that Mixolo was the next big thing. But something happened on the way to our coronation. We built more events, but hordes of people did not necessarily come. We experienced the classic “trough of sorrow” syndrome experienced by eventually successful companies in their first (and often several) years like Airbnb and Uber… Again, the terrors don’t usually make it to the timeline.
Bad app(les) and bad decisions:
After 8 months of app development work in 2017, or so I thought, the first app agency I hired delivered a non-working app in November 2017, breaching our contract.
I made other bad choices in marketing agencies that had no business-to-consumer expertise. They were really great at billing monthly retainers.
We’ve struggled to keep hosts interested in “doing the work” to help us help them attract this new untapped market of ready-to-go-out-solos who might be opting out of their “date-night” appeals and inherent, mostly unintentional, bias toward the coupled and related groups.
Fair compensation friends:
We’ve had to reckon with “influencers” whom hosts seem to love and loathe when we are actually bringing paying guests and potential loyal patrons who actually want to use their “products.”
While we’d love to benefit from influencers’ IG magic, Mixolo is not a tangible or visual product, it’s a genuine IRL personal experience. You have to live it to get it. Paying someone to say they like Mixolo seems blasphemous.
We’ll never say never, of course, under the right circumstances. IRL Mixolo ambassadors are being identified as the network grows.
We have been unable to meet the demand for events in other cities with our original model of curating, listing and marketing each event.
At times, we have not been able to accommodate last-minute signups for events, leaving hosts and members disappointed.
While events are the catalysts for IRL going out options for solos who want to expand their community and fun things, we learned early on that experiences are not a sustainable revenue model for a third-party concierge like Mixolo. We currently collect a nominal fee for each ticket sold.
Where we're going
The list of "failures" is long, but eventually they lead to sweeter dreams and better days. Stuff that keeps us going...
We partnered with another development agency in Spring 2018 and finally released our app MVP (another startup acronym, sorry) in August 2018 (dream delayed 1 year, but still sweet).
We differentiated the Mixolo app as an alternative to dating or meetups. Profiles are private. It is meant for community building around common interests IRL FIRST.
AFTER an event, you may opt to reveal your profile connect with your new connections offline for more IRL fun in MIXCHAT. When you’re ready to go out solo AND you want a shared experience, you can go with your new plus-some!
Events everywhere for everyone:
In December 2018, without fanfare (yet) we released our event host ticketing platform and dashboard (sort of a proprietary Eventbrite platform for solo-friendly events that appear in our app). Now hosts can build their own events.
For our more spontaneous members, having hosts control their own ticketing activity makes it easier to control the timing of ticket sales. It remains true that a certain protocol is required when accommodating an unknown group. Hosts must prepare and we hope that our member guests s can understand that quality experience takes preparation.
Money matters – that Grey(lock) area:
While we have not yet been able to attract venture capital (no one loved our original event curation model) or invest in large-scale advertising and business development, we are humbled by the organic growth through word-of-mouth and reputation and so grateful to our members and hosts.
We’ll be launching a crowdfunding platform next month through IFundWomen to raise money for business development and marketing- not because Mixolo is just about women. Mixolo is gender-neutral, religion-neutral, race-neutral, age-neutral (18+ though) and most things neutral because our social network is inclusive and not meant to be a place where perceived differences hold us back from expanding our community on common ground FIRST.
Truthfully, women and minority-led companies are least likely to be funded by VCs. IFundWomen platform is a great “kickstart” for Mixolo to get its pitch out to the world. Too bad it’s not just called IFundIdeas - someday there won't be a need to differentiate.
Expanding our reach and volume of members and hosts will help us sustain Mixolo as a viable business with an ad revenue model now enjoyed by other social networks.
The journey mystique:
Is it really “all about the journey?” Maybe.
Reaching an end does not necessarily mean a full stop. Our dream for Mixolo is to continue striving to become the place you go to ensure that you never miss out on fun - with others - wherever you are navigating solo.
We are not aiming for unicorn status, but we do want to make the world more solo-friendly.
We are proud to say we have a 90% retention rate of subscribers/members during the journey so far. 99.99% or our IRL users are still with us. Only one IRL user has unsubscribed; the rest of our unsubscribes never attended an event or were not near our Beta city. Your patience is a dream come true!
Our original mission, vision, and values remain intact even though the road has been winding. Consider taking another look at these guiding principles for the first time or again.
If we keep building it, we hope you continue to come.
While our loyal members are celebrating the power of solo, on the other end, there are the shamers - and those who feel shame - when one is not coupled or grouped. The feelings are strong on both sides.
A close friend just admonished her by all accounts successful granddaughter about not being married before 30. She is on a journey to be a leader in her field of endeavor.
Currently, only a few members promote us on social media through our experience ratings are exceptional. They sometimes receive feedback online that sometimes sounds like pity – while they are having fun.
I recently had a formerly elected politician say to me that she really wanted to get out of her limited social bubble and meet more interesting people or just go out on her own sometimes, but she felt that she might be ridiculed if she was seen in public alone. (see our holiday post on diversifying your social portfolio).
What’s most fascinating and rewarding is how dynamic our self-determined solos are and how they are engaged, curious, considerate and nothing short of amazing people. And they are not necessarily single. Our coupled guests are always respectful of the individual Mixolo guests. Another “extreme” idea is that Mixolo encounters are designed to be platonic and organic gatherings.
It’s actually easy to make dreams come true for Mixolo and for you. Join our IRL movement. There is no downside to having more fun. But there is an effort required to change the way solos navigate the world, shame-free, and without those pesky solo traveler up charges.
Wake up calls to action:
Active member users.
Please download the app if you have not already. More users, more hosts and the sooner you can go out with Mixolo. The app is a ticketless platform. We are aiming to be your social calendar for whenever and wherever you find yourself navigating solo and you prefer a shared experience.
Follow us on social media. Promote us on social media. @mixolo_gosolo.
Tell the world about your experience so far.
Active and interested hosts:
Our solos and your patrons want to go out without stigma. Welcome a new market that you might be overlooking. Take a leap and get into our web-based event ticketing portal to build your solo-friendly events in the Mixolo app.
Building a socially significant business, or any business, is not a straight path and we might disappoint each other from time-to-time, but like any startup, the best parts will be what we remember when we wake up to a new reality.
We can’t do this without you. May we seat you now?
*Horowitz, Ben. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers., 2014. Print.