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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Phoenix: Failed to Keep It Stupidly Simple

Enrique Benitez
Enrique Benitez
March 17, 2018
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Revenue of startups
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Phoenix: Failed to Keep It Stupidly Simple

Enrique Benitez
Enrique Benitez
March 17, 2018
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Cause of failure of the startup
No Market Need

Phoenix was a SaaS app to send a last message to the people you love when you die. However, it was the app which died first.



Hello Enrique! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hello! My name is Enrique, I'm a full-stack web developer and maker. I love to make and ship stuff! From idea to a fully working project.

Right now I'm working on growing my last project Spoil Your Enemies - a web app to send anonymous tv show spoilers via SMS!

About a year ago I launched my very first online project/startup called Phoenix, it was a SaaS web app that enabled you to send a last message to the people you love when you die ☠ (pretty weird, I know haha!)but the story wasn't so great.

What was Phoenix about?

Phoenix was a SaaS app to send a last message to the people you love when you die, you just entered the platform and start writing some messages (like an email) then you include the email of the people you want to send it when you die.

I got the motivation behind this one day I was thinking about death, and I thought: "One of the saddest things about death is that when you leave, you leave your ideas as well, your vision and the things you always wanted to say and do". Then I thought of a way to send whatever you want to the people you care about :)

I know what you are thinking, how the hell is Phoenix going to know when am I going to die? Well, pretty simple, there was a section in the app that acted like a button (I called it the Check-In) in there you just had to click on it to let Phoenix know you are still alive! If you don't press it after a year, Phoenix will suppose you're dead, and will send the letters!

How did you grow Phoenix?

The only thing I did was to launch Phoenix up to Product Hunt and Hacker News.

Apart from that, I did nothing, the reality is it didn't have a lot of traction (what I was solving anyway? what there a market?) but that's the cool thing about the story, I learned a lot, and I mean A LOT.

Which was the problem with Phoenix? How did you realize?

Well, the first thing was the metrics (metrics don't lie). I had thousands of visits but only 45 sign-ups! Here's the break-down of the stats:

  • Sign-ups: 45 👥
  • Monthly expenses: around $30 💸
  • Total revenue: $0 💰

So it was a mess. I then realized a lot of things happened:

  • I didn't have a proper audience
  • Young people don't care about death as much
  • Old people do care about it, but don't know tech!
  • A bit "expensive" (around $30 per year, people were going to die anyway)

What were the mistakes you made?

Here's the good part for you, I made a lot of mistakes, here they are:

  1. It took me around half-a-year to build Phoenix, non-stop, coding all day and night, hours and hours of development (it was a rails app btw)
  2. Bought a not-so-cheap domain (.co)
  3. Hired a lawyer to help me with the legal stuff
  4. Opened a bank account exclusively for Phoenix and other legal stuff (taxes and so on)
  5. Bought an SSL certificate
  6. Didn't have Facebook/Twitter/Google Login
  7. Hired a designer to make my logo
  8. Bought custom icons
  9. Used the most expensive transactional email service (Postmark)
  10. Bought custom email addresses
  11. I was super positive
  12. Slow registration flow
  13. Didn't collect emails first
  14. Didn't test the idea
  15. Expensive servers (Heroku)
  16. Didn't make it simple (!KISS)
  17. No early customers
  18. No audience (or weak audience)
  19. No Paypal
  20. No MVP

Scroll down to read the whys of each number.

What were your biggest disadvantages?

My biggest disadvantages were two, I didn't have early customers and I wasn't solving a real need (something people would pay for) so I had a very bad audience.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Woah! A lot! First of all is to start super simple (KISS - Keep it simple stupid). A month ago I launched Spoil Your Enemies and look at my stats: 

  • 1,545 users 👥
  • $37 in profit 💰
  • 11% returning visitors ↩️
  • Expenses - just the domain ($3/year), notification emails (Cents Per Email) and SMS (Cents Per SMS) 💸
  • The time I spent on development: 2 weeks ⏰

As you can see, I kept it very very simple and it worked, it's not a big revenue number but it generates money!

What did I do? I didn't do the mistakes I said before (but encountered new ones). I wrote a post about that in here.

What did you learn?

  1. You need to ship as fast as possible!
  2. Don't worry about domains, just buy the cheapest one you can find.
  3. Don't worry about the legal stuff, until you start generating lots of money, and that's hard to do.
  4. Just focus on the profit and growth at the beginning, that's all.
  5. SSL certificates are expensive, get them for free here
  6. Add Facebook/Twitter/Google Login in all your projects! People are lazy!
  7. Just design your own stuff, make it beautiful but not perfect.
  8. Don't buy anything except for the essentials, you don't need it at the beginning, you got other things to care about.
  9. If you're sending emails, go for the cheapest/reliable service, if you want to upgrade do it after the profits.
  10. Custom email addresses!? Just use your own email!
  11. Don't be positive, stay alert and real, things are going to be hard, don't fantasize.
  12. If you want to get sign-ups, keep it simple, just email and password (and name if you want) that's all, long forms scares people, remember, people are lazy.
  13. Get early users by creating an MVP, those are super important if you want initial growth.
  14. Test your ideas! Talk to people in your niche audience, create personas, test your hypotheses!
  15. Don't get an expensive server, your servers are not going to crash for100 persons online, first get 100 persons, then solve the next problem. Take a look at Surge.
  16. Again, keep it super simple! If you don't need a database, don't build a database!
  17. Get early customers!
  18. Be sure to hop in the right audience! Communities are everywhere, just look at Reddit, Forums, Facebook Groups or Slack groups!
  19. People love to use PayPal because they are lazy to enter their credit card info, implement it!
  20. Build an MVP! It can take you minutes to build, and it's very powerful to get leads and test your ideas before actually build em and fail (like me).

What's your advice for someone who is just starting?

Follow the list I just wrote!

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about me and my projects here or follow me on Twitter at @bntzio. Stay awesome.


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