RIP Google Inbox. Oh, and Google Reader. And Google+. And Hangouts. And… You get the picture. We’ve all got that one discontinued Google service that we will never get over. Google is so notorious that Killed By Google immortalises their product graveyard.
Of course, it’s not just Google products. Browsing Product Hunt for a previous article on charitable work by indie makers I was struck by how many dead links and folded projects there were.
There are lots of reasons a project ends, both good and not so good. Ali Usman argues there is no such thing as a failed startup and I agree. There are always valuable lessons to be learned. But there are good ways and bad ways to deal with that “failure” and the end of a project. You learn most and carry more goodwill by ending it with grace and transparency.
It’s a matter of reputation
Makers are their own brand – lots of us follow each other’s work and will happily get involved in and sign up to new projects. The maker community is supportive like that. But what if you suddenly shut down a project people loved, stranding them without something they had come to rely on? What are the chances they will enthusiastically sign up to your next venture? Not so much.
Another problem is the project (product, blog, podcast etc) that dies a long, slow death. The only updates are apologies for the lack of updates. Bugs run unchecked, the new features never materialise. An OS update breaks something that never gets fixed and the users just drift away.
Makers and founders – over even the product – are often the people that others follow and invest in. So you have a reputation to look after.
Everyone understands that projects don’t always work out. We’ve most of us got skeletons in that particular closet. It’s how you approach it that matters.
Being transparent can actually win you more fans and build trust. You gain a reputation for being open, no matter what becomes of your project. You learn valuable lessons. You can get started on your next project with a clear conscience.
The failure might not even be a failure at all. If handled well it just becomes another one of Thomas Edison’s “ten thousand ways that didn’t work.”
Build for the end right from the beginning
The ideal end might be an IPO or acquisition but as a responsible businessperson you need to consider the other forms of exit too: closing up shop and moving on.
When you are in the first flush of excitement and infatuation with your project, just as with dating, you think this is The One. You don’t want to think about the end, no matter how likely it is. (50% of marriages end in divorce. 9 in 10 new businesses fail. Have a great day!)
Also, take this on the chin for Future You. The Future You who is shutting this down might be burnt out, sick, or dealing with some rough stuff. Make it easier for them by planning ahead and not leaving them with loads of work to do.
Or on the brighter side maybe Future You has an amazing new project that is really taking off! You have to give up this particular project to focus on a new opportunity. You want to move quick and not get bogged down in old news.
It’s just another form of future proofing.
Bonus tip: if it’s content rather than a product that you are thinking about launching, try doing a limited run first. A season of six podcasts, a linked series of ten blog posts… Having that definite end goal can help you wrap it up neatly if you don’t want to continue. But if you do it’s easy enough to have another, longer season, and so on.
Give people their data back
Right from the beginning have a way for people to export their data. This is a requirement under GDPR and good practice anyway. Whatever that data is. People might want to move it to another product or just keep a copy of it.
Maybe they collected recipes, maybe they tracked their productivity, maybe they wrote journal entries. That’s all their data that people are entitled to take with them and not have it lost to the ether.
This is the sort of functionality you need to get right from the beginning. Imagine you’re exhausted, burnt out, and have come to the difficult decision to shutter your project. Except you have got to start building a big new feature to allow exporting data. That’s no fun and too many people will just skip it altogether, burning up customer goodwill and making you feel bad.
Don’t totally disappear
If you can, think about keeping the domain active and having it redirect to another of your sites. Or have a little bit of info on it about what happened to the project and where people can find you now. Domain renewals aren’t that expensive and a redirect can be done for free.
That paper trail is worthwhile. When I was searching through Product Hunt I know I missed out on new projects by great makers because the link was a dead end. Let people see what you are up to now!
There’s lots at stake
Chinese bike share graveyard a monument to industry’s “arrogance” reads the headline over a shocking picture of a football pitch-sized pile of bikes colour-coded from various shared bike companies. Some went broke, like Bluegogo, others have overestimated demand, others cannot keep up with the maintenance required on the bikes.
When manufacturing physical products we have responsibilities beyond our clients, to the planet. The packaging, the product, the damage to the environment will outlast the creators lifetimes even if the project is a success.
Sustainability has to be a consideration – from AirPods to bicycles. Planned obsolescence, single use plastics, the chemicals and rare minerals used in our mobile phones – they might be ordinary and common but it’s not a sustainable system.
Web and mobile apps can fade away but physical products live on, and you need a plan for how to deal with them.
Communication, communication, communication
It’s easy to be open when things are going great with your project. It’s not so easy when things go bad. And yet, that’s when it’s needed most.
It’s important to be honest with users – and even more important to be honest with yourself. You know the warning signs. Wishing them away won’t make it so.
There’s also always the chance that your users and community will be galvanised and come out in support. Like whispers of your favourite TV show being cancelled, you’ll suddenly see how much people care.
If you’re determined to end the project then that’s just good for the warm fuzzies. If not, you might be surprised by the reaction and find new opportunities in it.
Factor in plenty of time for users to hear about and react to the closure. Be prepared to field some questions. Again, honesty is the best policy. Be helpful – recommend alternatives, maybe you can even organise a discount code for a new service.
So even if you are closing down your project you can do so with integrity and feel good about moving onto the next challenge, hopefully with a community eager to see what you are up to next.
It’s rough to think about the end of a project – especially before it’s even started. But having these issues in mind right from the beginning and asking tough questions helps your product. It’s a benefit if all goes well and it’s a vital insurance policy if things don’t.