I’ve lived through a regime shift, school dropouts, single parenthood and even a pandemic, but none of these experiences made me so devastated as seeing my company fail. It’s been more than a year since my last revenue and I finally got the confirmation - after a long and costly bureaucratic procedure - Visuence Productions UG has been dissolved. Although it can be seen as a failure, there is also a silver lining.
We’ve all heard the annoying phase “I started from nothing”, which in many cases means a lack of experience but in fact financial stability. Well, in my case, I literally started my business from nothing and I spent all my single mom savings on founding my company. I could have spent those few grands on meditating in Bali, but nope, I decided to waste it on ridiculous legal and accounting expenses. I read all the required business literature about being persistent and believe in myself. They say if you try hard enough and really really want it, then you gonna succeed. Just like those young billionaires who started from nothing. I was empowered and believed, I can also make it. Then reality hit me with a baseball bat and I realised that business is a combination of gambling and doing unpleasant favours. It is in fact necessary to start with money in your hands, otherwise you can lose everything in the beginning. Also, you need to know the tricks, be a pro at bluffing, keep your cards close to your chest and fool as many people as you can. If you know me, you know that I don’t exactly have a poker face. But quite the opposite.
So, here are the five - main- reasons why my company didn't succeed. Cheers!
1. I lost faith in humanity
As dramatic as it sounds, after a while I lost joy in dealing with people. During my career as an entrepreneur I saw the worst and best side of humanity and believe me, it can get really ugly. I don’t know if it’s greed, fear, selfishness, a desire to prove themselves or just plain ignorance but people - regardless of their age, gender and profession - can completely lose compassion for others. After dozens of meaningless handshakes, dead eye-contact and “don’t waste my time” attitude I got disconnected from the business society. I felt that I could drop dead and nobody would move a muscle. On the other hand I must give all I can. A successful agreement is about meeting mutual self interest that leads to financial benefits. There is nothing emotionally satisfying about it, providing that you don't have romantic feelings for money. As I found out, too many people are profoundly selfish with no ability to feel empathy. As if they had to step on others in order to succeed. And they get away with it. On the other hand I met some super interesting, intelligent and compassionate professionals and even had the opportunity to collaborate with some of them.
2. I set other priorities
I missed countless opportunities of networking, giving a speech and attending conferences, because I chose to put my daughter to bed instead. It’s not that I couldn't find anyone else to do it, but I felt that I’d rather miss the chance to stand on high heels and talk about business ventures with a stranger in suit than being with my little one. I suppose it answers the question why fewer entrepreneurs are female. In my opinion, it just doesn’t feel right to be away. Attending conferences and driving 400 km to meet potential customers didn’t seem like an adventure to me, it simply felt that I don’t belong there. I was worried about getting home safely and didn't want to miss when my daughter tells about her day at school.
3. I got exhausted
I am a genuinely interested, motivated and hard-working person and I collected an impressive skillset during the past ten years. When it comes to a collaboration I tend to put all in from the very beginning till the end. Needless to say, I didn't get much in return. My company was competing with thousand others and customers have the tendency to cut the budget until it hurts. They were parking with a Mercedes while I arrived on my bike, yet they were the ones who bargained the price down. On the top of that I could barely sleep at nights because I was designing storyboards in my dreams. As an entrepreneur there is no "Feierabend", but the work starts as you wake up and doesn't really end. I noticed that I was sales pitching to friends and family and I was looking at possible business opportunities where I should have just enjoyed the moment. I got seriously exhausted and after a while I just realised that it doesn't worth it.
4. I didn’t do the math
I can edit videos with closed eyes and I’m faster with illustrating than anyone I know, yet, it wasn’t enough to lead a film- and animation company to success. Not only I was one in a million, I completely lack of knowledge in finance calculations. By the time I learnt how to create a business plan, it was already too late to seek for an investment. I worked as a freelancer for several years, but having a company is totally different. I was competing with other video marketing agencies who started with hundred thousand of Euros or already built up a solid client base. As I found out later, other startups pay for their personnel half as much for the same work than I did. Or they hire interns to do the job for even less. Outsourcing is also favoured among those with a minimum input strategy. Therefore, most of my competitors could offer lower prices for their customers and they kept way bigger profit than I did. Their morals are often shady but nobody questions that in a capitalist society. Anyhow, after several great projects, awards and business card exchanges - including NASA, Microsoft and GE Healthcare - my company earned a somewhat prestigious place on the market, but it was still a daily hassle to compete with others. There is always someone who does it for cheaper and high standards didn't turn out to be a great selling point.
5. I offered something people don't understand
I produced high-quality image films and explainer videos solely to medical professionals, engineers and scientist to present their innovative products on the market. I refused to do commercials for consumer goods, I targeted companies and universities that, I believe, make our world a better place. I learnt that these companies either already have partnerships with other video marketing / advertising agencies or they produce their videos internally. I had to fish constantly for those few clients who had budget but no creative staff and convince them to choose my services instead of the others'. Furthermore, I had to explain my potential clients over and over again how they benefit from my services. Many of them built up their network without even a well-functioning website and never heard about SEO, conversion rate or Google Analytics. Also, some think that YouTube is just for kids. For those without a basic understanding in digital marketing explainer videos are "nice to have" but not essential for their company's success.
If I ever started a business again, I would offer a product or service people need and can use to their benefit. I would make sure that I offer something so simple that even a monkey can understand. But most importantly, I won't risk my financial and emotional stability. There is already an overflow of ruthless entrepreneurs with superficial values and I consider it as a victory not becoming one of them.