In 2011, I started a business called Kngroo. Well - more accurately - 11 of us started a business, and I took credit for the work.
The original team
Ignoring my gut and listening to people in the start-up world, I damned our business. I hurt people and myself by trying to do “the right thing.” From the moment I excluded my co-founders, my heart wasn’t in the project.
At Start-Up Weekend Tampa in 2011, I came with an idea, hatched by my friend (I’ll call him Rob) and I at his house. We called it “CityQuest.” The plan was that I would take the idea to start-up weekend and try to get it started.
Well, I made my pitch and instead of being selective - our team became the “everyone who doesn’t have a team, team.” I found a job for everyone. We worked hard all weekend, and at the end of the competition, we placed second. Everyone was thrilled.
I thought that was it. I wasn’t very interested in taking it further. Vabbler, my current company, was much more important to me. However, when I applied to an incubator - I included another application for CityQuest, just-in-case. CityQuest was accepted.
Mistake 1: I followed the money, not my interests.
Now I had a problem. I had 12 people who helped me start this thing and one person who helped me come up with the idea. My gut told me to make us all equal partners. My mentors strongly advised against making anyone an equal partner. And it was indicated that having that many cofounders would destroy our chances for further investment.
I had to fire people, and those people were going to get nothing.
Many of the people I fired that day will no longer talk to me. Which, I feel I deserve.
Mistake 2: I abandoned the team who helped me achieve success.
According to my advisors, Rob was not a co-founder. If Rob wanted to be apart of the enterprise, he could be an early employee. He should only get 1 - 2% of the equity. I thought this was ridiculous and proposed 10%.
However, Rob was insulted by 10%, and we had a falling out.
He then started a competing company and took some of my old team with him.
I threatened to sue. He laughed at me. And we left it there.
Mistake 3: I got greedy, or I listened to greedy people. Rob was my co-founder and friend, and I didn't respect that friendship.
After those two mistakes, everything I did was a half-hearted effort. I barely met the expectations of the incubator. The business ultimately failed. It was my last entrepreneurial endeavor.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand what had happened. I felt awful about how I treated people. I felt guilty that I failed.
But I think I now understand what went wrong and I've made new rules to prevent making the same mistakes:
Rule 1: I must be a HELL YEAH on the idea.
Rule 2: Everyone involved in the enterprise must be, or have a reasonable path to becoming, an equal partner in the enterprise.
Rule 3: Only partners have authority to grant authority. Meaning that company leadership is democratically elected.
Rule 4: All the partners voted into leadership make their top priority to serve the other partners.
Rule 5: No partner can be an absent partner. Everyone must contribute their labor. No one can own part of the enterprise and not work on the enterprise.
I'm sure I will have many more failures. But, I hope I can mitigate the shortcomings of my morals by adhering to these rules.
Now, you can watch this video and laugh at 23 year-old Jeffrey.