I hereby announce a new trend. Failure.
So many events talking about how entrepreneurs failed. Every interviewer now asks about your biggest failures. It’s a thing. Failure.
But how many of us really embrace our failures. How many of us are ashamed by our failures and how many of us actually capitalize on them to learn lessons? Well, I know it took me a while to write this post and even as I write these words, I’m not 100% convinced that I will publish it.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Once upon a time, there were two seasoned entrepreneurs. Let’s call them Jeff and Jacob, both people who have experienced great success.
J&J took a look at the modern world of digital communication, specifically how teams communicate. There was a clear problem. The year was 2013 and teams were using Skype, Google Chat, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Google Drive, email, and many other tools to simply communicate. It was an unsustainable situation.
J&J set out to fix it and they envisioned a product that would unify all team communication. Team messaging, one on one messaging, file sharing, conference calling, polling, and on and on. One tool, all your team communication needs. They built it. It was called Zula.That’s when I came in. I joined as CMO, chief marketing officer. Zula isn’t the topic of this post, failure is, so I’ll run by those years fast.
We launched on the TechCrunch stage in SF, we won the audience choice award. We raised money from truly legendary investors like Microsoft Ventures, Gigi Levy, and countless other people I was honored to meet in those years. Truly brilliant people.
Anyway, all was going well. Until it wasn’t. We had an idea. We had a team. We had a product. We had marketing. We had money. But we lacked execution, which is exactly what Slack brought to the table. They built a superb product and we dropped the ball. We literally had more products than Slack back then, like integrated conference calling, and others. But they built a better product and won.
Enter Raz, a product visionary who brings decades of leadership to the table. Ok Slack won the team communication game, but we still have assets in Zula, like our audio stack, which we used for conference calling.
Well, we all thought to ourselves, where can we apply audio tech like ours and attack a new and hot segment? Well, podcasting is kinda becoming a thing.
And ZCast was born. And then? It went viral. And I say that with humility. It went bananas!
Anyone with a keyboard or a pen and paper covered our launch. They called it the future of podcasting. The YouTube of audio. The radio show of the 21st century. Raz built a truly phenomenal product.
But then things got messy. Transitioning a company from Zula to ZCast despite the momentum of our launch, was not as easy as it should have been in our heads.
The investors needed to participate to shut down Zula. The shareholders needed to restore their faith in the people who from their perspective failed the first time around. If they wouldn’t jump on the ZCast train, we’d never be able to truly leave the station.
Raz kept building, I did my thing in the beginning. Natan and Alex spent endless hours coding. Farhana kicked some serious tuchus on social media. Michelle brought her A-game to the design and UX of ZCast!
Tens of thousands of users. True momentum. High retention. Amazing podcasts on ZCast. But that Zula baggage, getting rid of that line on our cap table and truly focusing our resources on building ZCast? Never truly happened.
A few weeks after ZCast was born, we found out we weren’t the only ones who had an idea to build a podcasting platform. Anchor was born. This time though, we won on execution. ZCast was truly a delightful product. In my humble and totally biased opinion, a better product than our competitors, including Anchor.
Anchor got very hot very fast. It became the sweetheart of Silicon Valley raising capital from the biggest names and having the valley’s biggest influencers back and promote the platform. But we were still a better podcasting platform for many reasons.
Well, Raz kept coding, spending hundreds of thousands out of pocket and I, on the other hand, ran out of steam. I preach consistency every day. I am the most consistent person I know. Same morning picture every day. Same date night every week. Same Shabbat pic every Friday. Consistency is important. Call it OCD but I believe people like structure.
But here, I failed. I didn’t persevere. Raz did. I didn’t.
I lost faith and felt deep down that if investors didn’t have faith, how could I? How could I promote something that might be gone tomorrow? That would damage my personal brand. And so I left it. Raz didn’t stop.
But we did have regular conversations about every new version Raz was deploying and the man wouldn’t stop. I gave up.
Last week, Spotify acquired Anchor just one week after us pulling the ZCast plug.
We removed it from the App Store, notified all our users, and effectively shut down the company.
We failed. We lost. I lost.
We lost Zula to Slack. We lost ZCast to Anchor.
And so, on a personal level, my imposter syndrome flares up. “Who am I to advise startups? To help companies grow? What have I done? These entrepreneurs all seem to be rock stars. What am I? A perpetual fail-er.”
Well, I tell myself that the lessons I learned over all these years equip me better than anyone to learn from mistakes and do it the right way.
Either way, not easy to say it out loud but I have failed again.
Onward. Hoping for many opportunities to fail, learn, and grow for many years to come.