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OWNER'S MANUAL

4 Things Our Start-up Got Totally Wrong

While building a killer app for the hospitality industry, Monscierge hit more than a few classic start-up hurdles. Here's how it survived.
Marcus Robinson, Monscierge

Marcus Robinson, Monscierge

I love lessons learned. Unfortunately learning a lesson means making a mistake or doing something wrong, so that's why I also love people who are willing to share the mistakes that result in wisdom.

So here's a guest post from Marcus Robinson, Chief Experience Officer of Monscierge, an interactive software company specializing in hospitality solutions for hotel, convention, travel, and healthcare industries.

Here are four things Robinson says Monscierge got wrong--and one that continues to pay off:

1. We made it about us.

We built something for hospitality that really works. It isn't just a marketing mock-up, it actually performs on the back-end while also rivaling any major design firm's application on the front-end. But, guess what? No matter how well we perform compared to other companies, no hotel will ever say, "Valued guests: Download our mobile app. It's called Monscierge

After burning up inspiring YouTube scenes of Ben Affleck in The Boiler Room, we realized we just want to play in the game, to sit at the grown-up's table, and are happy to be a (paid) cog in the machine.

Branding our products for each hotel played a crucial role in achieving momentum.

2. We hired "star" industry leaders.

Three out of four start-ups will fail. Those that stay in the game realize that it's about more than a good product. Inserting an industry veteran in a team that has carefully crafted an idea from conception could potentially block your yellow brick road of progress.

Don't ignore the inner voice inside saying, "That doesn't sound right, but this industry cowboy must know what he's talking about."

Look around and assess. If there are three washed-up start-ups to your left and you're still going strong then you don't need a shining knight to ride in and save the day. Besides, regardless of their number of years in the industry, the average corporate nine-to-fiver may not realize the energy it takes to weather the start-up storm.

3. We decided just because we could, that meant we should.

We lost our focus and we paid for it. We set out to create hospitality and travel apps that were both well designed and had a badass framework.

After releasing some of our products, clients and vertical markets both began offering to pay us to develop various one-off pieces. Those may have been no-brainers to create, but they also took away from our (small) team's original goal of fleshing out the rest of our core products and left us playing catch-up to the rest of the market.

Stay laser-focused--don't let compliments and a little up-front cash veer you off course from the bigger payday.

4. We assumed we knew our customer's problems.

Engineering a B2B product based on thorough research alone can halt your start-up before it, well, before it starts up. How many times have you come across a product and thought, "Now, if it could just do this it would be perfect. I'd totally spend the money to buy it!"

We spent countless hours going back to the beginning, starting with our team working behind the scenes at a few test hotels.

Feel your customers' pain, or risk being just another app.

One Thing That Keeps Paying Off

Partof the start-up hype seen over the past few years might not be all marketing-speak. Let's be straight: You can't work at a start-up and not be entrenched in some sort of a weird yet dynamic group. One of the absolute best moves as a start-up was filming a two-minute video about our culture, not our software.

Humanizing your product and showing the dedication and passion that got you in the elite 25 percent of companies still in the game will push you over the line.

Sell yourself and you also sell your products.

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Last updated: Jun 13, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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