Here’s some bad news about starting a business. Not all ideas work. In fact, most of what we try would fail. I have my experience building an initiative called “Bookshelf” in 2018. I diversified the initiatives to four (yes, unbelievably four!) projects. But unfortunately, I have to say that it hasn’t met my expectations yet.
Bookshelf began with a modest dream: to share the love of reading to many. In the midst of my daily job, I came up with a unique idea. That is, to give book reviews in a form of question. Let say the book is about traveling and adventures, as “Wonderlust” written by Carissa Atrianty does. I would give information about the author, some trivia, a TEDx video that connects to the theme, and eventually a question about the book: “How do you define adventures in your life experiences?” What I wanted to do, was to have an engaged audience.
Bookshelf went off pretty well, with 71 followers at the Instagram account and 99 unique visits to the website within a week (I checked it just now, on July 28th, 2019). Being ever so ambitious, I began to explore different projects to expand Bookshelf.
My golden product was Bookshelf Kit – a quarterly book subscription box. In addition to the book (either in English or Indonesian), you get a notebook and you donate automatically to Komunitas Jendela or Hoshizora Foundation (your choice). I was so pumped up with the idea, emphasizing on its noble charity cause. Yet I ignored all the inputs from my friends: that there are too many book subscription box programs already, and that the price was too high at IDR 480,000. Even though I used some bookstagrammers to promote the program, I got ZERO customers.
My next project was Bookshelf Club, which unexpectedly had a good start. Our first meeting in March 2019 was with six members, including me. We discussed about the books we love. But again, there’s a catch. This project, like Bookshelf Kit, couldn’t go on without me. In other words, they need local human resources to grow.
I then ventured to publication for a rather global project. It’s called Bookshelf World. Point is, I’m writing stories shared in English, Indonesian, Japanese, French, Italian, and German on Medium platform. Pretty neat and quite exciting, I must say. But here’s what I got for “Eleven at Night”, a short story about a college student, Mana, filled with self-doubt in the middle of the night. Thirty-one views in total, twelve reads, and five fans. On Submission Guidelines article, where I was hoping people would submit their writings, I got only fifteen views.
Reality kicks in. I was failing on Bookshelf projects. And I regret to say that I’m about to shut down everything.
But is it really that bad? Is there a way to make this initiative grow?
Let’s be honest. For every business initiative, you can succeed if you’re willing to sacrifice (time, effort, et cetera). Note though, it depends on your definition of success.
So, here’s what one should do when it comes to failed business initiatives.
They should re-evaluate their strategy. What do you do, what do you offer, what is the market you’re targeting on? Is there demand there? What price are they willing to pay for your service? Here’s what the answers look like for Bookshelf. People enjoy reading and use services on reading. But it is tertiary needs, therefore they are not willing to pay so much for extra experience. This is why, I got some followers on Instagram with my free content but no subscribers.
Prior to jump head in to a project or initiative, try to sketch the long-term goal. From Ramit Sethi, I learned that online business is an attractive option – we extend our reach to global market and lower our production cost. A quick example would be a business on online course. If I knew that I target on online presence, I shouldn’t even try to build projects that depend on human resources.
Finally, build the audience! My HUGE mistake on Bookshelf World (and possibly on other projects as well) is that I didn’t have an audience yet. Imagine this. Your customers are stepping into your website like how they visit a restaurant. They know it’s a seafood restaurant (or Asian, or All-You-Can-Eat) and they expect to enjoy a good meal. But you put some stuff on the menu, that didn’t fit. You put healthy food catering, 100 flavors of ice cream, and so on. The customer is simply overwhelmed and didn’t have the time to build a connection to the products. In other words, I suggested different projects without first INTRODUCING them to my readers. Hence, there’s a miscommunication.
If you’re like me, despite knowing you fail you’d bounce again and learn from your mistakes. As I was saying, I might stop Bookshelf projects but there is a possibility that I’ll try again. Lesson learned today: be critical on your initiative and plan thoroughly before launching them. I hope this article is useful and you can put them into practice.