The rise and fall of Touch

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This is not so much a cautionary tale as an example of a principle at work that affects many start-up entrepreneurs. We become so sure of our infallible ideas and how successful they are going to become that we make the mistake of hoarding them from public exposure until they are just right.

In Silicon Valley there is a mantra which reads ‘Fail Fast’. This might seem kind of pessimistic but in fact it is a critical lesson. If you have an idea or a product, don’t wait for it to be perfect but rather get it out there as quickly as possible, expose it to users and find out what it’s failings are, so that you can reiterate and come out with Version 2.0.

Three years ago I had the privilege of being selected – with twenty other ambitious entrepreneurs – to go through an entrepreneurial boot camp at the Bandwidth Barn, funded by the Western Cape Government. It was a truly spectacular program which helped me immensely. At that time, I had created a website called vouch4me which supplied mobile vouchers for tourism activities. It was the heyday of vouchers at that time, with companies like Groupon raging around the planet like gigantic impenetrable gorillas of profit.

I had learned quickly however that Groupon was developing a bad reputation for hard-selling inferior services en-masse and the trend was already shifting. Several of my own clients, who had always loved my products, did not want to be associated with a voucher/discount service. With the help of my mentors at the barn, I pivoted my site to become a curated directory of tourism services, a combination of Facebook meets Pinterest for business where businesses could update their own pages and I could collectively market them. It was especially focused on clean mobile oriented design.

The system was called Touch and my first project was Touch Cape Town, where I leveraged my contacts in the tourism industry to load 150 businesses to create a working directory, with the idea that I would charge them R600 per year. While at the barn (and with their assistance) I set up a deal with a major tourism infrastructure company funded by the government, a network with potentially 6000 businesses. We kicked off with another 150 of their businesses which we loaded onto the system. While that was happening two more businessmen bought into the idea and purchased licenses for Touch Montague Gardens and Touch Zambia. Altogether, 600 + businesses had been loaded onto the network. I thought the world was at my feet, my big break finally berthed. I could not have been more wrong.

The question is, why? The answer has a lot to do with bad assumptions.

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