News Leopard Founder: Failure Is NOT a Step Closer to Success
News Leopard is Taiwan’s largest newsletter service platform, with over 5000 customers including Prudential plc, Q Square Mall, Bounty Hunter and the Society of Wilderness. It is made specifically for marketers and it’s highly user-friendly. Founder Louis Chang is an engineer, and an extremely humble person. “Any mistake you can make in running a business, I have probably made it in the past dozen years.” Said Chang in the beginning of the interview.
Chang used to work at an Internet company, maintaining a credit card payment system. The company later decided to discontinue the service, and Chang had something better in mind. He persuaded his boss to give him contacts with these clients, then he started his own company, SofTech Co., Ltd, and became his old company’s partner. It was 2004, the year Chang started it all.
Hidden Risks of Being a Contractor Company
After taking over the old clients from his former employer, Chang’s startup company was doing well in its first year. He spent a lot on office refurbishment because he believed that a beautiful office could help recruit more talents, little did he know what he got himself into.
Chang said, being a contractor has many risks, so many that he wrote an article《Warning, traps! Problems for soft-engineer’s startup》about it. “How long it takes to finish a job depends entirely on the client, any additional labor and cost due to delay is all on us. In addition, the money you think you can easily make out of regular maintenance actually decreases each year because your clients believe that the system should be stable enough after a few years of maintenance, so you don’t really have to charge as much anymore, even for new features.” Of course things are not that simple. It’s extremely difficult to add new features to an older architecture, unless you haven’t improved at all throughout the years, which is unlikely. Most engineers are reluctant to abandon the entire system altogether and make a new one, so they always end up doing a lot of extra work.
Labor is another issue, or a misconception. Say you have 3 employees, and you can’t give them excessive workload, but you also don’t want to lose all the big clients, so you end up hiring more employees, finding more clients, and repeating these two actions. Chang said he once had more than 10 employees in a production line, taking day and night shifts to work nonstop, but his business still ended up going under and had to constantly live on unearned revenue. In 2009, he had to move out of that beautiful office of his.
“If There’s One Thing More Than Important Than Perseverance, It’s Your Goals.”
Chang and his wife then rented an apartment and finished off all the remaining workload. During this period he figured out what went wrong. He was leading the company in the wrong direction, resulting that everything he did only sped up his failure. Intelligence, diligence, team and scalability, are the things that had been helping him through these 5 years, but they also kept him away from success. He said that every entrepreneur has to maintain a balance among what he wants to do(interest), what he can do(capability), and what he should do(the market). From experience, he knew that the market is the most important, then it’s capability, and lastly interest. “Your passion can wear off, what keeps you going is actually your deeper emotions, like perseverance, or you are just a genuinely helpful person. An entrepreneur should uphold these values and go with the market and his own capability to make the right adjustments for his company.”
“My biggest problem was that I set the wrong goals. I did what I could do, not what I needed to do. I couldn’t get through this by myself, I needed help.”
When Chang’s former employer offered help by inviting him back to his old job, he turned to AppWorks Accelerator instead, with a new proposal. “I had to take another risk,” Chang confessed, “the salary my last boss offered wasn’t bad at all, but still not enough to pay my huge debts. It would still be 30000 dollars short every month, wouldn’t be enough!”
Though he was selected to join the 4th AppWorks Accelerator team, his idea of a wedding website was immediately turned down in the first month, for not being profitable. While still in debt, he turned to AppWorks founder Jamie Lin for a fundraiser. During consultation he mentioned his experience in a newsletter system, Jamie then suggested that he could try a newsletter delivery service. (A similar wedding website was indeed launched some time later by Chang’s fellow teammates in AppWorks Accelerator.)
After setting new goals for himself, Chang took a closer look at users’ demands, and defined his target audience as extremely complicated small and medium-sized enterprises, that are not so tech-savvy. He promised them a platform that is fast and effective, and anyone can use it to send a newsletter in 3 easy steps, under 30 minutes. Besides the service, he also offered courses to all his partners, and wrote columns for many other websites to introduce newsletter and his platform while talking about current events. “At first, our sales team did not have a good time going outbound. We are now doing something new, that is building brand recognition, so people can find us by themselves.”
“And one more thing, failure is NOT a step closer to success. Multiple failures only tell you what you have done didn’t work; you have to be doing the right things first before getting better, so I believe that only when you have achieved a small success you are closer to big success.”
Despite having a team and an accelerator for the past ten years or so, Chang has been making decisions by himself all along. “Because a co-founder might not agree with you on everything you do, which can be a problem, and I prefer spending my time on the market.” He also said that even if given the chance, he still wouldn’t want a co-founder, because he really wants to build a business of his own.
中文版連結Cover photo via Hans Gerwitz@ Flickr, CC License