How Kuwait & Me, a small startup that I built to spread the joy of giving in Kuwait, died.
Kuwait and Me was a site I launched back in December 2014. Being in Kuwait for nearly 12 years I decided that’s it’s about time I did something back for the country and the first thing that came into my mind was creating a wonderful community where people could exchange stuff locally online.
Classifieds and my kitten
When I was in Canada, one of the things that was really popular there were classified sites like Craigslist or Kijiji.They were like local sites where people would sell their stuff locally and it was the first time I ever heard of it.
That’s a picture of Vanellope. A kitten I found from a classifieds site while I was living in my lonely apartment in Toronto. Having her will be one my most memorable experiences that I’ll ever have and giving her away will be one my biggest regrets.
But still, there was this “irreplaceable joy” that a pet would give someone, and I was so in love with mine that I wanted everyone in the world to get something like that.
I knew that Kuwait didn’t have an active classifieds website like the one in Toronto. Which was why I decided to create Kuwait & Me, with a mission to bring the same kinds of love and happiness to the people of Kuwait.
And so the website was created
I began making the website in December 2014, and got something up by the end of March. It wasn’t too complicated had a simple login & search functionality. It looked like any basic classified site.
This was the first design. Very simple, most of the designs & layouts was taken off from Chinese classified sites. The entire thing ran on PHP & Backbone.js.
This was the second version, I created this after only 1 month of being online. It was more user friendly and had a big emphasis on photos. I rewrote the site this time on Node.js & Angular.
This was a screenshot of the third version, which was not too different from the second. There were just small changes in the design (most of it inspired by pintrest) and more UX issues cleared out of the way.
But something was wrong.
After marketing on social networks and doing a ton of SEO, I was still running dry for a good 4-5 months. No signups/classifieds for weeks long and by the end of 6 months I got only a 100 classifieds and 25 users among 10,000 visits. I had a bounce rate of nearly 98% and no regulars.
I worked really hard on the site and I wondered “why aren’t people coming into the site?”. I thought that it was probably because my design was bad, or that my marketing wasn’t strong enough. But after speaking to a lot of entrepreneurs, I realized in reality it was actually something far worse.
Why I took it down?
Like most startups. I failed to correctly validate my idea and I spent so much time building the wrong product. I made something because its looked like a bright money-making idea and it excited me so much that I assumed it had to be a success.
But it turns out that, classifieds might not have been the right way to approach the problem; If someone had to experience that the joy of sharing, then the site would have to work in a much different way than a local marketplace. Ecomodo, Peerby are some interesting ideas (and I’ll leave this for the reader to explore). What a classifieds site bought instead where people who wanted to make money, which included real estate agents, local businesses and illegal dealers (black money & drugs). This was not what I wanted.
Apart from building the wrong product, I also underestimated my market and my competitors as well; My market was small and my biggest competitor was a company called dubizzle, which got recently acquired by Olx. Olx, (being the giant it is) stomped me the moment they entered the classified scene in Kuwait.
I spent months in developing the site and I could have kept everything running just the way it was, but it required a lot maintenance, time and money. And on the top of it all, I moved to an another country mid-way through developing the site. In other words, my situation is best summed up by this quote.
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
Stephen R. Covey
Perseverance is key, yes. But uneducated perseverance is worse than having any perseverance at all.
Creating this site is always going to be an amazing learning experience for me, and I’ll keep it just to that.
What I’ve learnt?
Although I’ve clearly gotten to know a lot about coding in Node.js and MongoDB, there are a few key values that I would like to mention.
- Unless you have the experience of doing a startup, being a solo-founder just will be too much to handle. I did everything my myself; Designing the logo, developing & maintaining the site, marketing on social networks & SEO etc.. There’s only little a human can do and I could clearly see how much the stress would have faded away if I had another co-founder by my side.
- You need to always validate your model, speak to your customers and analyze your competition. I thought that what I did was what people would want, and my assumptions had to later prove me wrong. I had validated the idea by my friends, family and with myself (and not with my real customers).
- Even if you don’t create the final product with all it’s amazing features and sparkly buttons; if you have at least something out there that works, then there’s always room for improvement. Over the period of 6 months, I’ve revised the design about 5 times, changed the entire framework twice and had to completely erase and restart the database thrice. If I had continued to improve with I had in the beginning then I could have reached much further ahead. Furthermore, if I had continued with whatever I had, it would still have been better than nothing.
Will I bring it up again?
No. It’s pretty much dead and it’ll take a lot energy (and capital) for me to resurrect it. I’ve left Kuwait and it’s been nearly a year now so it’ll be hard to do a startup while you’re in another country.
I have learnt a lot by doing the site but I don’t think it’s sustainable for me anymore. Right now I have a thousand other exciting things to do, so I’ll keep this aside for now. Until then, see you next time!
If you found the story interesting and you want to do something similar, you can find the code to the site here; Although most part of it has been left broken (and probably the ugliest code you’ll ever encounter).