Tauras is a 30-year old entrepreneur from Lithuania. With the objective of digitizing the wedding planning process, he co-founded WedMap. They launched the tool within some months and carried out a vast number of marketing strategies, which led to a monthly revenue of $2k. However, different problems on team, resources, skills, and product meant WedMap’s failure.
Hi Tauras! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
Hey guys, I’m Tauras, 30 years old entrepreneur originally from Lithuania, but based in Switzerland. During my entrepreneurial journey, I have founded multiple startups and my full focus at the moment is on 21 Day Hero - an online marketplace for 21 Day Challenges that are designed to help you lose weight, improve your fitness and reduce stress, by changing your habits.
While I’ve enjoyed my fair share of failures, the most notable is probably the one at Wedmap, a startup that aimed to digitize the wedding planning process. I’ve found it together with 2 other guys and we ran it for almost 3 years before deciding to pull the plug.
Whoever had to play a role in planning a wedding, knows that it is full of inefficiencies and it lures entrepreneurs in every market to come up with the solutions. Our thinking was simple - in the age of Airbnb, gig-economy, and sharing-economy, people are so used to finding and booking the services online, that it's only a matter of time until you can find and book ALL of the services needed for your wedding - completely online. Thus ultimately, we aimed to be an online marketplace for wedding locations and service providers, using a usual marketplace business model - taking a % of the booking amount.
What motivated you to start WedMap?
I was involved quite heavily in planning my own wedding and as an entrepreneur, I couldn’t understand - why is information so scattered, hard to find and moreover, why in 2015 (at the time) everything is so offline? Seeing a market opportunity, I talked to a couple of friends, Gian and Pawel and convinced them, that it’s our chance to build something great.
Did we have prior experience in building successful tech startups? No. Did we have any experience doing business within the wedding market as non-consumers? Nope. Did we realize how important it is to talk to your users, before building the whole set of features? Not really. Did we have any clue about the challenges of a 2-sided marketplace? We had no clue.
But that’s the whole beauty of it - we just went for it and learned stuff the hard way.
How did you build it?
We built our first prototype in a month and launched it right away. Initially, we intended to list all the wedding locations and vendors on the map (hence the name WedMap), using the Google Maps API and a custom front-end. It was built from scratch by our CTO Pawel and designed by my co-founder Gian. It was simple and beautiful.
But then, we got lost in the perpetual product development, wrongly thinking that MORE is what we need. We quickly realized that the Google Maps API was a limiting factor and after adding more than 100 map pins with infoboxes, the site was loading extremely slow. Thus for the next 6 months, we rebuilt WedMap to look similar to Airbnb. We had a full-featured backend for both, engaged couples and wedding vendors. But everything was buggy, not fully mobile responsive and slow. Pawel was our only engineer. He had only 2 hands and 12h in a day. On top of that, we made a mistake of thinking about having a ‘scalable’ platform right away instead of using more off-the-shelf tools like Wordpress + Themes + Plugins.
Our business model changed a couple of times too - from a listing model, to lead generation, to revenue sharing. It’s a whole different story, that perhaps needs another full blog post.
But what was great is that we really enjoyed the whole process. We were optimistic, happy to work hard and really wanted WedMap to succeed. And we were happy to talk about WedMap everywhere we went - we basically flooded the Swiss startup scene with our pitches in every single event we could go to, which in the hindsight, perhaps was also a sign of not having a focus in the right place...
What were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
I was the marketing guy at WedMap and I have to admit - I did a lousy job. We tried many things, but none of them really well. Social Media, Email Marketing, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, SEO… We knew all the right tools, but lacked having the right priorities, which hindered our marketing efforts and we made a usual mistake unexperienced founders do - focused too much on the product, thinking that it will sell by itself.
We had some success with Facebook ads as our customer LTV was pretty decent and could offset the CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost). But our sales processes were not optimized, took a lot of manpower and sometimes we got too many leads, sometimes not enough.
Looking back, I would have had much more success if I better focused on SEO as our competitors were not doing a very good job with it and we could have generated so much needed traffic, with very reasonable costs. But we wanted results now and SEO was too long-term. Ads were expensive but it brought traffic now. Sounds silly, I know, but that was the reality.
One highlight though, I was reading a book titled ‘Traction’ by Gabriel Weinberg. It gave us the structure in our marketing strategy we needed. For a while at least...
What were the causes of WedMap’s failure?
Oh boy, where do I start…:) As all of you know, there is never one reason for failure. A certain combination of timing, skills and resources can take you to the top, but a wrong mixture will slowly burn you down.
Let’s start with the most crucial part of any startup - team. We were 3 men working in a market driven by women. We knew that, but thought that it didn’t really matter. In the hindsight, I’m sure a lot of our potential clients went somewhere else, because of the lack of feminine touch in our product and communication.
On the other hand, me and Gian had skills that were too overlapping. We both had experience and wanted to play a role in business development, product, marketing, sales & design. Up till the very end our egos were in the way, preventing the ability to trust one of us with the CEO title. We both wanted to be in charge. It was childish, but once again - it was a reality and it created another hurdle towards making WedMap successful.
We definitely didn’t have a lot of spare cash to invest. Living in Switzerland without an income, will burn through your savings quicker than you can imagine. We were always under the intense pressure to succeed NOW, max next month. We kept buying time from our better-halves, promising them that it’s just a few more months until we launch this great new feature people were waiting for. Nobody was actually waiting, but the lies you tell yourself and others to keep that wishful thinking going...
Also, we aimed to be a software-startup, but Pawel, our third co-founder was the only engineer. He was building this huge product we wanted WedMap to become. Looking back - we could have used his skills much better, but we didn’t understand this at that time.
On the bright side, we were hustlers and super scrappy when it came to getting stuff for free. I’m sure we were able to last so long with no income because we were smart (sort of) in where we spent the little cash we had...
While we thought that we had all of the skills we needed to succeed, the truth is, we were too cocky. We were more interested in playing entrepreneurs than actually doing the things entrepreneurs should really do.
We didn’t lack determination, but we had little experience in product development, building a two-sided marketplace, generating 1000s of visitors cheaply and doing sales in this new market. Nevertheless, I’m so happy we just went for it - it made me the much better entrepreneur that I am now (still a long way to go, though).
As mentioned before, we got lost in product development. We didn’t speak to enough users before deciding on what to build, didn’t go deep enough to understand what it is people would really pay for and for some reason we were thinking it’s a great idea to invest all this time in building a sport-car before building a great bike first.
We stopped working on WedMap in June 2018, but we didn’t shut down the company until the end of 2018. A stripped down version of it is still online, but it’s only a 2% version of what WedMap was at its peak. As you can see, the shutdown process was gradual, it took us at least a year after we stopped working on it actively to fully pull the plug. I guess the attachment to our ‘baby’ was too strong. At least for me, I couldn’t face the failure right away and wanted to keep the door open to supply us with a false hope of someone wanting to buy it. Admitting to failure is so, so hard. What happened after June 2018, I have written extensively about in my blog post “How my failed startup made me the healthiest version of myself”.
What were your biggest mistakes and challenges you had to overcome?
I’ve talked about it quite extensively in the previous question, but to summarize I’d point out the 3 biggest mistakes:
1. Failing to utilize off-the-shelf tools to get product-market-fit
Knowing what I know now, we could have built 80% of WedMap with 20% of time-spent, simply using Wordpress Themes for marketplaces and a bit of custom coding, that our co-founder was more than capable to do. It would have saved us at least 6 months of time. 6 months...I’ll leave you with that thought.
2. Not talking to our customers and thinking we know what the market needs
You heard this one 100s of times already. Why? Because it’s true. It takes a certain level of naivety and arrogance to THINK you know what your market needs. Please note that the majority of our market was the opposite sex. We all know that men can’t know what women need :) Jokes apart - it took us 1.5 years to really start talking to our customers. And even then, we were simply looking for affirmations to our ideas and ignored the red flags.
3. Not being ready for a marathon
During the last 6-8 months of WedMap, we were exhausted from encountering problematic hiccups and reacting to them by desperately looking for quick-fixes, quick wins. We started to engage in multiple side-projects looking for any revenue streams. Our bank accounts were empty and arguments at home were more frequent - it’s an immense pressure to experience and I wish everyone to be in that place at least once. Our response to that situation was bad, because when starting WedMap, we had high expectations that everything would work out within the first 6-12 months. Ridiculous when I think about it now, but it only shows that we were not ready to look at WedMap as a marathon and not a sprint. That mentality led us to a series of really bad decisions.
What were your expenses? Did you achieve some revenue? In the end, how much money did you lose?
We always kept our expenses low. Perhaps the biggest month was around $2k when we were making a bit of cash. We never paid ourselves, so our expenses were related to software tools, hosting, paid ads, and participation in wedding exhibitions. We had a bunch of unpaid interns, although we did try our best to pay them at least a little when we had a chance.
Our revenue in the first year was around $4k, around $10k in the second year, and around $20k in the third year. Expenses were practically the same as we always invested everything back. So, we didn’t lose a lot of money if you look at the balance sheet, but opportunity costs were extremely high. All three of us left $100k+ job opportunities behind to pursue WedMap full time. Plus, we were burning at least $4k/month on living expenses (told you living in Switzerland is expensive)!
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
It relates a lot to the biggest mistakes I mentioned previously. I’d say to myself - make sure you really talk to your customers, make sure you find ways to put your product out there and find out what people are ready to pay for as soon as possible. And finally - if you’re not really ready for this to be at least 3-5 years of ups and downs - don’t do it.
Which are your favorite entrepreneurial resources?
In terms of websites, I really enjoy this one and this one. I also like the well-known books Traction, by Gabriel Weinberg, and Hooked, by Nir Eyal. I also usually listen to podcasts like Smart Passive Income by Pat Flynn, Marketing School with Neil Patel & Eric Siu, Entrepreneurs On Fire by John Lee Dumas and many more...
In terms of tools, I generally use Wordpress + Elementor (great for prototyping), MailerLite (great for email automation) and Envato Elements (great for various licensed media assets for an affordable price).
Where can we go to learn more?
If you want to improve your mental or physical health - go on and try one of our amazing 21-Day Challenges here.
If you need to boost your SEO - reach out to my agency.
If you’re interested to follow me on Social Media, let’s connect on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Medium.