Billy Chasen had a dilemma on his hands. One of the founding members of Betaworks and the founder of Chartbeat and firef.ly, Chasen was knee-deep in his barcode-scanning startup Stickybits and had gotten good buzz at South by Southwest with moderate consumer adoption. But it wasn’t getting the kind of traction he wanted. It wasn’t a failure, but it wasn’t a success.
With $400,000 of his original Stickybits funding still in the bank, Chasen made the decision in December to take a hard turn and abandon Stickybits for his favorite idea at the time, which turned into Turntable.fm, a shared interactive music-listening service that has gained about 1 million users since its launch in June. The New York City company just raised $7 million and put out an iPhone app. Chasen spoke at an event called Venture Shift on Thursday night in New York and shared some thoughts on his pivot. Here are some takeaways from his brief chat.
It’s hard to pull the plug on a mediocre success. He said it’s easy to spot a failure, and success is equally obvious. But the hard part is in making the decisions about a middling venture. But you have to be unsentimental about it. “It’s your baby and you still believe in the idea and others do, too. The first thing I had to do is get everyone to agree that we’re not where we want to be,” said Chasen.
You need to telegraph your pivot well to everyone involved. Chasen said he worked hard to get investors on board with his shift. All of his investors stuck with him, save one who said he couldn’t get behind a music startup. The investor was eventually bought out by the startup. Chasen said he worked to make his investors aware of the fact that Stickybits was missing its goals. But while he got all of his investors aligned, he said he didn’t do a good job with his team. He basically just laid the new direction on them without much preparation. “It wasn’t as collaborative as it should have been. Some people were taken off guard. They asked, ‘What is this random product you’re talking about?’”
Do what you love. It should be obvious, but entrepreneurs need to follow their interests. Chasen said he had actually two ideas as alternatives to Stickybits, but he made the choice to go with Turntable.fm because he was really excited about music. Though he didn’t say it, it seems like his credentials along with his passion are what have helped keep his investors on board. Howard Morgan of First Round Capital, who invested in Turntable, said it took guts to change course but he saw that this was what Chasen was excited about, not Stickybits.
Keep a lot of ideas in your head. Chasen said he’s constantly thinking about ideas and has hundreds of them going at any time. When it came time to change direction, he was able to choose from the best of his collection of ideas.
When it comes to launching, draw a line in the sand. Chasen said he’s a perfectionist, but he knew that he had to launch at some point. So he drew a line in the sand to ensure that as long as he got to a certain point, he would feel comfortable in opening to the public. The temptation is to keep adding features, but he said you will never be able to launch if you don’t stop at some point.