It’s not a story often told in the buzzing startup world, where everyone is focusing on the future and what they are going to achieve, not what has happened in the past. But the death of an app and the demise of a promising founding team is as important a part of startup culture as that near-mythical exit. You can learn so much more when things go wrong than when they go right.
And that’s what makes it so interesting to talk to someone like Anthony Barba. He is currently working on an app called Might, a ‘maybe’ calendar where you can store all the parties and events which you haven’t decided whether to attend yet or not. It’s a promising new startup on the Berlin scene – and was born from the ashes of Anthony’s previous labour, the now-defunct Pistachio.
The idea behind Pistachio was pretty simple. Anthony and his team wanted to bring interaction back to the real world by building an app where you could see who was nearby and who wanted to meet up. But the idea never really made it past the beta stage, suffering from a series of problems that eventually drove it into the ground completely, sending the founders their separate ways.
Anthony and his Pistachio partner Sebastian Galonska now agree that one of their biggest problems was that the three original founders suffered from a lack of cohesion. Their different work ethics and backgrounds meant that they never really gelled as a team.
According to Sebastian, they only ever went out for beers together a couple of times: “If you can’t drink together, you can’t work together.”
The team also struggled with responsibility and discipline – they were ‘playing’ at being a startup instead of taking it seriously enough to spend a set amount of time at the office. Anthony was so excited to have such a high caliber of business partners, he said, that he wasn’t able to lead them effectively, giving them as much freedom as they wanted and letting frustration get the better of him when things slipped: “I was so shocked that I actually got these guys to work on the project that everything would slide. And I would feel bad in the moments that those guys would fall back a bit and I would yell.”
Constant Tweaking and a Need for Perfection
Pinpointing exactly what Pistachio actually was also seemed to be a major issue for the team. While the core idea of getting people to meet in the real world was a constant, the team would change stories and features on the fly and always assumed that they would be able to change it later.
Sebastian thinks that this need for perfection and the constant tweaking had an extremely detrimental effect on the product, and believes now that it is better to launch a poorly executed product and then fix it as you go along.
Anthony and Sebastian are now able to acknowledge that Pistachio’s initial group of 30 beta testers was made up of people who were more excited about the founding team than the product itself. “We were getting feedback that was so biased. We thought we’d cured cancer in the beginning.”
Now, with Might, Anthony has decided to forgo beta testing completely and just launch the app straight to the public.
Dealing with investors also posed problems, with ego and unpreparedness culminating in a series of unrealized opportunities. Anthony said that one of their major mistakes was not moving fast enough – they were offered an investment and moved too slowly setting up legal documents.
Unready for Investment
Sebastian, meanwhile, says that they weren’t ready for an investment and didn’t know how to deal with it: “If you want to go out and get money then be prepared for the fact that you’re going to get it. We weren’t.”
Anthony is proud, though, of the fact that Pistachio was able to pay back its investors, and cites it as the main reason that the founders are still friends: “Investors trusted us with money – toward the end you could see we were going to make bad decisions with their money. One of things I loved most about my partners is that we did the right thing.”
Looking now at the premise of Might it is easy to see how it was borne from the ashes of Pistachio, and Anthony believes that his year of working on Pistachio and its ultimate failure has been an invaluable learning experience for him.
He has fired himself, and hired Ranjith Sirusanagandla to be the business guy in the operation while he focuses on the product. Together they are avoiding the mistakes that Pistachio made and are disciplined and focused, and have a team of teenage developers and designers working on the product. They are prepared for investment, and are set to develop the app further after it has been launched straight to the public.
So something good Might just come from Pistachio after all.