This is a very long story, so grab a bite :)
During my employment, there were many exciting works that I did. There were also many relationships that were formed. More importantly, I got to learn so many precious lessons. These are the kind of lessons that alter the course of my life.
Lessons upon lessons
The challenge presented by daily deal business model definitely allowed me to practice my online marketing skills. From social media to web analytics. The heavy traffic (I forgot how many times the server crashed during several deal launches) meant that I could test many theories that I could not have previously done before and be confident with the result.
But the most precious lesson (one of them anyway) was on entrepreneurship.
I was lucky, so very lucky
I still remember the day I first saw Adrian. I was in the office room and he came in with one of the co-founders (Andy). They were talking and laughing. Soon after, Andy, introduced Adrian to the whole room. After we shook hand, he quickly sat down to my left and asked me some questions about facebook ads. It was clear he is a complete newbie in online marketing, but those questions revealed to me how smart he is.
1 month later, he formally joined DealKeren and soon enough, I could see the real Adrian. He turned out to be an amazing guy: not just smart, but he has a big heart too.
Those were still the early days of 2010 so we were still a very small team. I got to work directly and report to Adrian. We discussed many things together and he could really keep an open mind and appreciate fresh ideas. I am still immensely grateful that Adrian could appreciate my young-and-sometimes-naive light bulbs. Others called these bulbs foolish. He called them creativity.
Knowing his big heart, I took it as an opportunity to propose ideas
And propose away, I did.
I got to start many independent projects beside my daily tasks at DealKeren. It felt like I was making sub-startups within DealKeren. It was like getting funded for my idea and I was set loose to be fully responsible for my ideas. How could I not fall in love with a company like that?
Here I was, getting funded for the exact same cause that got me in trouble in my previous work places. Previously, people would have said “no” after 30 seconds hearing my proposal. In DealKeren, I got the kickstart. Major awesomeness.
It’s important to note that the ideas I threw around was purely intended to benefit DealKeren. I thought if I could create this product or make this project successful, DealKeren would be more well-known and hence, more cash flowing in.
During my stay, I created 3 sub-startups within DealKeren:
All of them ended up dead. Satriya died due to diminishing time and funding. Cool or Dull died due to re-allocation of resources. And Shopping Paradise died gracefully after it proved that my value hypothesis was wrong.
Purpose: to facilitate DealKeren’s market penetration using gamification layer. If it were to take off, we could also have control on share of voice of daily deal provider on social network. That is, we would have and could provide incentives for people to spend more time talking about DealKeren instead of other daily deal. More SOV = higher chance to create relationship.
Satriya was going to be a gamification overlay on top of popular social networks (I started with twitter and foursquare). Think of it as a reversed SCVNGR/Bouncity.
On bouncity, you need to check in first before doing challenges. Satriya only required you to sign in with your twitter ID and all of your tweets/activities on foursquare would be given points (which can be used for “leveling up” and other social perks). There were certain activities that would generate more points than other; e.g. mentioning @dealkeren
It eventually died. For this project, I got to hire a friend as a part-time developer to work on Satriya and I got the design from a designer in DealKeren. I wanted it done fast, so I contracted @tyohan as a front end developer using my own money. He ended up just doing 2 interfaces before the Satriya was abandoned.
I planned this to be an underground project. I thought I would keep it silent from Ensogo and once it’s up, running and got traction, I would present it to them. That was foolish.
If there’s a single compulsory pre-requisite of a successful startup, it would be to have all parties involved looking in the same direction. To have the same vision. Everyone should be as transparent as possible to everyone else. If I could not trust or could not make myself entrusted by the others, this startup has a very weak foundation.
Another related lesson is that communication to all parties involved is very important. Interpersonal relationship is critical to success. There’s no way I could do this alone; I need help from others. And if that so, then I should manage a very good relationship by excellent communication.
Business is easy, people are hard.
2. Cool or Dull
Purpose: to be used in DealKeren’s online and offline campaign. I have never seen something like this ever used in an event, so I thought this would be a really cool addition to our events.
Imagine if you were in a concert. There’s a giant screen filled with pictures of people who are in the same concert. And the screen keeps getting new submissions of pictures. Wouldn’t it be awesome?
Think of it as an intersection between real time hotornot.com and pinterest layout. The pictures are submitted through twitter and displayed near real time on the homepage of coolordull.com. People who visit the site could rate the pictures submitted. It’s a for fun kind of thing.
Since this is a very simple project, it saw the light. Briefly. It was used several times for dealkeren campaigns. We used it during Jakarta Fair in 2011.
Although some people found it confusing to use, it gained some tractions and it was a pure delight to see real people using it. Some pictures even got more than 10 votes! :D There are days I see the traffic and time spent on site jumped although we spent nothing for advertisement.
It’s a shame the project stopped being developed due to diminishing time. The latest status was implemented a tutorial to use the site and creating a mobile friendly version. Other works pressed in for my developer friend. He was also still taking his master finishing his thesis so he couldn’t come in full time. The days he came in were the days he’d be working on something specifically for DealKeren.
So it finally got abandoned.
I would have to say that this is the most successful project out of the 3 in termof completeness. It validated my value hypothesis. It didn’t solve any real problem, but it served as a good hype platform.
The only thing that was not yet proven was: could it ever turn to be like hotornot.com. That is, the growth hypothesis was still not confirmed.
With this project, I learned that having sufficient resource is critical, especially to do things you can’t do yourself.
3. Shopping Paradise
Purpose: another attempt to penetrate market using social game. Social game is huge for Indonesian. So I thought if we could make a great game that people would love to play, the game would serve as another touch points, to DealKeren, in the market.
This was the largest project of all three budget wise. I worked with Agate on this one. They had been a great team. I really thank Shieny, Andrew, Nelson, Tama, and Barziyan. Without them, there would be no Shopping Paradise. They (especially Nelson and Tama) put their heart and soul into the game. Thank you guys.
It was a social game on facebook where you can shop in the town for discount items. The better you get at picking out discount items, the more you can build your city. The more developed the city becomes, the better the items get.
There were quests to do that require you to shop around. Citizens would ask you to shop certain items for them. By doing quest, you’d get a certain reward. There were also quests that require you to ask your friend for help. You could also help your ingame friends to shop.
Want to get a cute costume you can’t buy from the shop? Or maybe you want to zoom your way through the game? Sure, buy a deal on DealKeren and use the code to redeem the costume. So the game did not only serve as an introductory touchpoint, but also an incentive for people to spend on our deals. Or so I thought (more on this later).
This was immensely fun project, but also the most emotionally draining. This was the first time I had to see the billing for my project. And it was not small. That was not including upgrade fee.
I couldn’t help to feel a heavy burden. I started calculating the profit I must create through the game to pay off the bills. To put it mildly, I was burdened. Thoughts like “what if this game flops?” raced through my head. I couldn’t help it! I was faced with a huge billing for something that may not even take off. And it was my idea! I was asking a company I loved to pay for a hope; for something that may turn out to attract nobody!
Fortunately, the game did get played. And we even got pretty good response. The comments on the game fanpage were quite good. We were quite well received. I could definitely see some early evangelists that had fire in their belly to excel at this game. Some were really enthusiastic. Some others were so into the cute costume, the ingame characters and the vehicles. I definitely worried too much and I should’ve had more faith on Agate team and on myself.
But soon enough the reality set in: we weren’t growing fast enough. On my projection, we would pay off the initial outlay in 6 months. It was a bad projection though. I definitely bloated the number to boost my confidence. It was my way to make peace with my mind. I was desperate to make the game successful because it was my idea. I couldn’t help to feel strong responsibility to make a pay off.
With the growth at that time, we would probably reach BEP in like forever. And I was desperate to show real progress to the team. So I started spending on facebook ads. It helped! We reached more than 8000 total player before the development stopped.
Unfortunately, things got to end. It was a tough (and not to mention, embarrassing) decision to call it quits because Shopping Paradise was definitely not a path to sustainability. It was a very demoralizing experience for me.
The lesson - on values
Remember that I wanted to use the ingame items to probe people who wouldn’t buy our deals to start spending? The premise was this: assuming the game is good and people play the game with their friends, if we offer virtual items in exchange of a deal voucher, they’d do it. They could show off the item to their friends and they also got a bargain from DealKeren. Why the heck would they not do it? 2 birds in 1 stone! I am genius!
Not so fast.
If you have ever used DealKeren, you know that the payment process could be a pain in the ass at times. You need to order from the web, then go to ATM/online payment website, then you need confirm your payment, and wait for the payment to be approved. This hassle turned out to be much bigger of a turn-off than some virtual ingame item. Simply, the perception of value from the ingame item could not overcome the cost (tangible and utility) of getting the item.
We could see the proof of this when we check how many people redeem the vouchers, who are they and what deal do they redeem. Most of them are existing members redeeming popular deals. So it’s very likely that those who redeemed would have bought the deal anyway with or without the ingame item. We were basically giving away the ingame item for free.
If I could repeat the experience, I would have validate both value hypothesis and growth hypothesis of the game by building a Minimum Viable Product. It’s going to be a very early prototype of the game. Test the following premise:
The lesson - on growth
The game was expected to grow virally, so I will also test the following premise:
I mentioned above that we reached more than 8k players before quitting (around 1.5-2 months after launch). Not fantastic but I’d say it’s a pretty good number for a 1 developer, 1 copywriter, 1 artist, 1 project manager, and 1 newbie game marketer (me) team. I’d argue that it’s even a number big enough for the game to sustain. So what went wrong?
The number looked big in aggregate, but when we looked deeper, we didn’t have that much daily player (500 tops, and most of them are new players). We had a very thin head and a very long and thin tail. That is, there were only small number of players who played regularly. There were only a small number of players who spend time (in a day) more than average to play the game. There were even smaller number of players who did both! Most of the players left after checking out the game. Or they gave it a try once, twice and never came back. We had a very high attrition rate on engagement.
So when startups boast big numbers, you need to be smart. Ask the right question; a deeper question that will reveal the true state of their enterprise. If the founder/CEO/whatever do not want to reveal the numbers, be very skeptical of the hyped press news surrounding the startup. Media craves big numbers, it makes them look good.
The lesson - on finance
I also learned about financial projection. I mean, real projection. It was not until 5 months later, after I left DealKeren that I got to learn how to do a real projection. But by the time I learned, I was prepared; I knew the value of doing projection and how important it is to do it right.
I have failed many times trying to build something: my past blog, my 3 projects in DealKeren. And I expect to encounter more of these in the future.
I must admit it sucks to fail. I felt really bad for letting everyone involved down. But I tried, I got up, I soaked the lesson, and I get better.
If there’s only 1 thing you got from this post, let it be this: failing is ok, but don’t dwell on it. Open up and soak the lesson. But most importantly, get up and try again.
If you have a startup, if you enjoy this post, if you learn something from it, please share this post to people you care.
P.S. Thank you so much for Adrian Suherman, CEO of LivingSocial Indonesia. Without him, this story would have never been written. He’s been a very good friend of mine during my stay and he still is. I still look up to him to this day. Thanks Pak.
I would also like to thank @oliviawillyost, @erwin_stwn, @tyohan, @agatestudio and Syafrullah Djaya (Etjie) for helping me on these projects. Without them, my idea would never had materialized and there would be no lesson to learn. Thank you for your assistance. I am forever indebted to all of you.