What’s Next? The Aftermath of Startup Failure.

Shutting down my startup has left me needing to fill three voids: goals, money, and credibility. I’m fortunate to have steady consulting work, a simple lifestyle with few expenses, and little danger of of not being able to fill my basic needs. But I was drawn to startups because I want to live a life that’s both fun and that makes a difference. So I’m trying to get back on track to doing both; here are the challenges that I face:

Setting New Goals & Making New Plans

The startup provided at least a rough framework for the next year that I was building plans around; milestones, important events to attend, etc. With that no longer in the picture, what do I want to work toward? And what am I now free to do? One of the big things is travel. As I can work remotely while doing consulting, now seems like an excellent time to see what life in other parts of the world is like. From everything I’ve read and observed from friends, having travel experience is by far one one of the best ways to achieve personal growth. So by Spring of 2011, I want to have traveled outside the U.S.

Building a New Financial Foundation

As I mentioned in my post-mortem for EasyImpress, I can’t see myself ever trying to start a startup again without enough savings to be able to focus solely on the startup for 6+ months. Travel, self-education, and side project experiments all have costs too. So one of my biggest priorities is increasing my income, diversifying it so that I’m not solely reliant on consulting work, and saving enough to have an investment & living expense fund ready for a new venture.

One of the things I’d like to try is niche content marketing. Creating and monetizing content, primarily via a blog, seems like a great way to:

  • Learn more about a subject or two that I’m interested in.
  • Get more experience building traffic and promoting web content.
  • Get more experience creating process that minimizes time input and maximizes quality output for content creation.
  • Create small but constant passive income streams.
  • Create an asset that could be sold in a site market like Flippa.
  • Fill in some of the empty / under-served spaces on the web.

So, roughly, the plan is to: continue serving my existing consulting clients, look for new one-off consulting opportunities, and create, grow, & monetize one or two niche content channels. My goal is to have saved $10,000 by my 25th birthday, in July 2011.

Regaining Reputation and Gaining Credibility Indicators

The hardest part of shutting down EasyImpress was the amount of reputation and ego I had invested in it. A failing startup is often a classic sunk costs trap: you feel like you’ve put so much into something, you can’t stand to stop, even if it doesn’t seem likely things will turn around with further investment. In addition to the time and money I’d put into EasyImpress, I’ve made life choices that I defended to others with the vision of my startup succeeding, and I would like to think that I appeared and presented myself to others as a young businessman on the rise.

Now I’m several steps back again. Even though I feel like the past two years have gained me many things, my credibility hasn’t significantly increased. Credibility is a tricky measure that requires converting successes (whether financial, educational, or experiential) into signifiers that others can understand (diplomas, titles, possessions). Most people judge you by three things: what you have, what you’ve achieved, and who you’ve been recognized by.

Appearing credible to others is important. Credibility is the key that gets you past gatekeepers and allows you access to opportunities. My consulting work again at least gives me the credibility of a profession to claim, and for those who care even some impressive clients in my portfolio of work. But the accomplishment of having created a successful business is still what I’m lacking.

For now.