Why my startup failed and how you can avoid my mistakes

8 years ago I had a startup called The Candy Artist. Like many entrepreneurs, I’ve had more than one fling with a business idea. Unfortunately, sweet success wasn’t to be had with that venture. Here are the lessons I’ve learnt and how you can avoid the mistakes I made when building your startup.

In 2012, I spotted an opportunity in the confectionery and events catering sector to turn my artistic abilities into a business. Sweet trees (or Candy trees) were exploding on the scene along with candy buffets and cake pops, and I knew I had the creative skillset to raise the bar in what was on the market and create a niche product and service. My career in digital marketing meant I also had the foundational skills to get the business online with minimal cost. The problem was, I was still in a full time job (though deeply unhappy with the daily grind of agency life and having a one year old son at the time). I couldn’t do it alone – I needed to partner up.

I found my partner in my BFF. She was every bit as creative as me and I knew her industrious nature and her values aligned with mine. Plus I loved spending time with her. 

We did some amazing things in the three years we worked together to build The Candy Artist. We sold at artisan food markets, were commissioned for weddings, and corporate gifts, and even catered for celebrity attended events around the world. (Eva Longoria may have sampled one of our creations and Food Network star, the Candy Queen herself, Jackie Sorkin reached out to us!)

So what went wrong?

Timing, Motivation, Mindset

I started Candy Artist with the wrong motivation. I was deeply unhappy at work and this was my attempt at building an escape route. Sleep deprived from having a one year old and worries over a mortgage and bills to pay, I was also bringing in half of the household income which meant I couldn’t afford to be out of salary for too long. I was coming from a place of worry and fear when I needed an abundance mindset.

Hunger, Vision, Goals

If I’m honest, I wasn’t hungry enough and lacked a clear vision in the direction of the business for which my friend was looking to me for. We didn’t have a plan to reach our loosely defined goals. Subsequently, we became gig workers even though that wasn’t my long term vision.

Mind the gap

My friend and I made a good team but we lacked the skills and experience to level up the business. We had the skills to develop, maintain and produce but we needed someone who had the drive, knowledge, and experience to move us on from being a kitchen startup. From selling at artisan food markets to supplying in retail stores. 

All our eggs in one basket

We made the cardinal mistake of relying on our largest client. We lacked the time to invest in expanding our client base due to other commitments and pandering to our largest client.

So what startup advice would I give you?

Overcome your fear of failure that is holding you back

Have deep conversations to those closest to you. Involve them in your vision because they will be the ones to support you when you need it most. They can help mitigate your fears by way of emotional or financial support. Create a backup plan with them should your idea fail.

Put in the groundwork 

Define your SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timely) and your core values. Make sure you understand who your customer avatar is, and research your competitors. Put together a business plan and vision statement. This may evolve over time but it will be your guiding light for when you lose your way or start to stray.

Fill the gap

If you’re missing the necessary skills or knowledge, consider partnering up or paying a third party for their services. Don’t try to figure everything out yourself, stick to your strengths. If budget is tight, offering a skill exchange or equity in your business is always an option. 

Never put all your eggs in one basket

Diversify, expand and pivot but never lose sight of your customer avatar and your core values. COVID-19 has highlighted how this is more important than ever. Only those businesses which are able to do this will survive.

I hope you’ve gained some valuable startup lessons from this article, I’ve enjoyed sharing my failure with you. If you have any stories of your past ventures to share, I’d love to hear them – drop me a line.

SweqLink is an online business networking platform, matching would-be entrepreneurs over the exchange of time & expertise for business equity. We want to make entrepreneurship all inclusive to give businesses the strongest foundation for success.

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