A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast episode where Pete from Do You Even Blog was talking about his failure resume. I loved this one. Hearing about the struggles people face to get to where they are is so humbling and humanizing – showing how much hard work it takes to get to where we are today.
I’ve seriously enjoyed writing on Minafi the last 4 months (which is how long I’m considering the site has been active for). It’s been one of the only times I’ve worked on a personal project that’s actually been viewed by other people, which just motivates me even more. In my career of side projects Minafi is an outlier; something I’ve stuck with long enough to be fun and get input on how to make it better.
A Failure Resume
I thought it would fun to go over the different failures I’ve had over the years that helped build my skills and get me to where I am. Over the last 17 years, I’ve registered about 30 domains hoping I would create something amazing on them and they would take off. All but 3 of them are now out of service.
1) ddrei.com: Dance Dance Revolution East Invasion
Registered: 2000, age 18, my first year in college.
Years Active: 2000 – 2007
Goal: An east coast community for the video game Dance Dance Revolution!
What I learned: I learned PHP, MySQL, CSS, community building, video recording, networking, working with ad networks, writing, lots of things.
What I’d do differently: Find a way to capitalize on the traffic with ads, or on being a major authority on the topic.
Why it failed: Eventually I stopped playing DDR and most of my friends playing it had also moved on.
The forum had 30,000+ members and was receiving 2,000 pageviews a day at its height. One contest we ran triggered over 1tb of bandwidth on our server for “DWI” files – DDR step charts you could play on your local computer.
It’s funny to me that my very first site I ever created ended up being the most successful of anything I’ve ever personally created. The forum had many moderators, and it had hundreds of posts a day at its height.
I open sourced the code for this site after it was discontinued. It’s some really really really bad code, but you have to start somewhere!
2) dymension.org: Dymension
Years Active: 2002-2005
Goal: Create a personal site for sharing a journal, photos and more to share with friends.
What I learned: It’s a lot of fun to have a place to share these online. This was in a time before Facebook.
Why it failed: I switched from having a personal journal to having more of a professional presence online after I graduated college. This led to me starting adamfortuna.com (more below).
This was a custom PHP site from scratch that had everything from an image gallery, to a custom blog with comments and movie review system. It never got much traffic other than from friends who wanted to read what was going on in my life, but traffic wasn’t a goal back then. By the end of this site, I’d started using Amazon Affiliates and reviewing movies I’d watched – but traffic was never high enough to make any money.
3) ramenreview.com: Ramen Review
Years Active: none
Goal: Create a site with the goal of reviewing cheap ramen from asian supermarkets
What I learned: When I’m out with friends and we say “we should make a site that does xxx…” I should’n’t do it.
Why it failed: I took a joke idea way too seriously and registered a domain.
I created a really bad layout for this one. I did end up being able to reuse the layout in a HTML Design class I took in college though, which saved me a bunch of time and got me an A on a final exam.
4) adamfortuna.com: Adam Fortuna Personal Side
Years Active: 2005-now
Goal: Create a “personal brand” site that portrays my more professional side.
What I learned: This site has been my place to experiment for over a decade. I’ve learned a lot technically rebuilding it.
Why it failed: This never took off more than for a place for me to link to it. It lacked a clear vision and reason for people to go there other than to see “Who’s Adam?”
I love this site. It started as a WordPress site, then switched to Jekyll, then Octopress and now Middleman. At its height in 2007, it had a Google Pagerank of 7 and i was making $100/month from text link ads in my sidebar (big money!). I wrote a LOT of blog posts on this site — 10 in 2005, 36 in 2006, 103 in 2007 and 31 in 2008! Of all of those posts, I couldn’t name 1 that I’d consider to be great, but I do think that all of that writing helped me find my voice for later (like here).
In the last few years, I’ve posted things I’m more proud of – many of those articles I’ll likely transition over to Minafi in time which I’m hoping becomes the eventual home for my good writing content.
The topics on this site went from personal to technical things I was learning and writing about. It seriously lacked a theme until recently – where it’s switched to a travel journal. My absolute favorite post on here is my photoblog about our trip to Japan 3 years back. I hope to eventually create some kind of photo post here when it makes sense.
5) arcadefly.com: Arcade Fly
Years Active: 2005-2008
Goal: Create a single place to see where all arcades are and what games are at each location.
What I learned: Building sites that require creators and consumers are three times as hard as just sites that require one side.
Why it failed: Aside from being a very narrow market, it required a bunch of dedicated creators for this idea to work – something that I took for granted in my former community building efforts.
ArcadeFly was released right when the Google Maps API was released. You could enter an address and it would geolocate and map it! You could even put in your address and it would show the distance to each location. It was pretty amazing.
6) floridiots.us: Floridiots
Years Active: 2005
Goal: Create a blog featuring nothing but stupid things by “Florida Man”. The goal was to get traffic from people who wanted something funny, then have some ads to make money.
What I learned: Creating a bunch of content for something about people making mistakes doesn’t put me in a great mood.
Why it failed: I burnt out trying to create content I thought was fun. Doing something just for cash made it more like work.
7) coldfusionwebhosting.info: ColdFusion Webhosting
Years Active: 2007
Goal: Create a WordPress with links to places to that offer ColdFusion webhosting. This is a language I used in my day job, and this keyword was super-valuable in Google Adsense. I thought I’d try creating something around that to make money.
What I learned: Same as Floridiots – creating something for money won’t work.
Why it failed: I never had a great plan for what the content would be for this site.
I can’t even remember if I launched this site. I tend to think I put up a WordPress theme and then it struck me: “What am I doing?”.
8-11) Dance Game Related Domains
I bought a few domains over the years with the hope of eventually developing them. I never did. bemani.org, iidx.org, ddrfreeds.com, beatmania.org. All bad domains and bad ideas on my part. I learned not to buy a domain without a plan on how to use it. Also, those .org domains should be avoided.
12-13) lineofthought.com: Line of Thought
Years Active: 2011
Goal: Create a platform for devs to be able to list what technologies they’re using for others to discover it.
What I learned: Implementing a search from scratch in Ruby w/Solr. Same as ArcadeFly – this requires a network effect to be successful. Also, if you’re creating a site people can add links to, you’ll get a TON of people adding links and moderation will be a bottleneck.
Why it failed: I did all the technical work for this, but I never did the hard work of reaching out to other devs to get them to use it. I know now that the reason I didn’t want to reach out was that deep down I didn’t think this was that great an idea. Didn’t chat with people about the idea beforehand.
I learned a bunch creating this site from a technical standpoint. I love the domain for this one still, and it’s one I’m keeping around to reuse. This started as sitesusing.com.
14) movief.ly: Movie Fly
Years Active: 2011
Goal: Foursquare for checking into movies. A place for people to track which movies they’ve watched and review them.
What I learned: Creating sites that require a network effect aren’t fun unless you can get a network.
Why it failed: Similar to LineOfThought – no outreach. Also, don’t buy a .ly domain name. Didn’t chat with people about the idea beforehand.
I learned a bunch creating this, and integrating with IMDB to scrape data from there – which was technically against their TOS. If this site had been successful, it would’ve required a $25,000 IMDB license. Nowadays, there are free databases that would help solve that issue, but back then IMDB was the DB for movies.
I loved the analytics this would give you about movies. It’d show you which movies you liked more or less than the IMDB averages. Which directors you favored more or less. I still like the idea of knowing which movies you like way more than your peers.
15) gardenplanr.com: Garden Planner
Years Active: None
Goal: Create a graphical builder for creating a square foot garden.
What I learned: Creating interactive GUIs in JS is hard! Especially back in 2011.
Why it failed: The work required to create this would be entirely too much.
I created a garden in my backyard — that counts right?
16-17) standingoffer.com: Standing Offer
Years Active: None
Goal: Create a way to let people know times you’re available to make group scheduling easier.
What I learned: Talking to people about an idea helps flush it out!
Why it failed: When we realized there was already a great competitor, doodle, we gave up.
This idea was for the first StartupWeekend I ever attended. I pitched this idea, enough people voted for it, and we created a team around it! We worked on it for Friday – Sunday, then demo’d it. In that time, we talked to people to get feedback on idea then created an MVP.
Later on, someone mentioned doodle, a site that does exactly what we were building. We ended up scrapping things after that.
Even though the actual idea was a bust, I learned that I REALLY liked talking to people about ideas. In 2016, I changed my role from a developer to a product manager – a role that requires a large amount of user reserach. I credit this short weekend with introducing me to the idea of just going out on the street and asking people questions.
This counts as 2 failures because there were 3 startups at this event that focused on Bitcoin at a time with BTC was under $7. The fact that I didn’t recognize this as something bugs me to this day.
18) evaleverything.com: Eval Everything
Years Active: 2013 – 2014
Goal: Split off technical content from adamfortuna.com onto this side blog.
What I learned: I love writing about what I’m spending my time on. If I can provide a platform for writing about that, it doesn’t matter if it’s successful – I’ll still write on it.
Why it failed: I stopped writing about new technical challenges I was hitting, and instead spent a lot more time building things out at my job.
eval function, which is awful to use.
19) ng-guess.com: NG Guess
Years Active: 2015-2016
Goal: For fun site to guess when the Angular framework would hit 2.0.
What I learned: This was the first time I used Firebase as a backend database and D3.js for visualizations.
Why it failed: This got a bunch of visits when it launched, then went down immediately. It was a fun novelty.
The Firebase and D3.js knowledge I gained from this little one-off site ended up being essential when creating the Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence. I didn’t know it at the time, but those skills learned in this site ended up paying off huge.
20) cocktailfly.com: Cocktail Fly
Years Active: 2015-now
Goal: Create a listing of the best places to get cocktails in a bunch of different cities.
What I learned: Creating all of these lists is TOUGH! I couldn’t do this with any cities I hadn’t lived in.
Why it failed: It never took off due to lack of content, outreach and no SEO.
This site took a weekend to create, then another few days to write all of the content. The goal was to see what it would take to recreate something like Eater.com’s maps.
Years Active: 2016-now
Goal: Explore the intersection of minimalism, mindfulness and financial independence.
What I learned: I’ve enjoyed writing and connecting with other people more here than anywhere else. Finally, it feels like I’m working on building something that I can stick with for a while.
Why it failed: Time will tell.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few posts be featured on other sites that brought in a bunch of traffic. When Use Savings Rate as a Lifestyle Inflation Canary was featured on Rockstar Finance, I suddenly realized how much traffic it could bring! Later on the FI Guide was at the top of Reddit for a day which brought in over 10,000 users that day. Since then, the guide was featured in YNAB’s mailing list, which brought in a bunch of new people as well. Honestly, I’m still overjoyed to see people commenting on posts. Of the 19 sites on this list, only about 3 ever had any kind of user interaction by others.
22) minimalinvestor.com: Minimal Investor
About 7 weeks ago I started a 10-week email course called, The Minimal Investor. I realized I had already written over 75 pages of content, and later
The Minimal Investor Course
Sign up to become a Minimal Investor with this free 10-week email course.
Ok, so not all of these 22 are failures. adamfortuna.com and minafi.com are still around – and minimalinvestor.com is my next thing. “19 failures and 3 things that haven’t failed yet” doesn’t have the same ring to it though.
Why Does All This Matter?
It’s hard to tell what failures it took someone to get to where they are. For those with no additional information about me, they might think I was blogging for 2 months and then had a hit post – but that post took 18 failures to make it to! I’m a slow learner – both for new technologies and understanding what makes me happy. I’ve made enough mistakes in my professional life as well — one famous one even cost my company $13,000.
If you can fail fast, you’ll be able to move on and make space in your life for new pursuits. There’s a common phrase in the startup community that trans
Kill your darlings.
It means being OK with letting go of things you’re heavily invested in. Some of the sites above I thought were amazing ideas and it was just time and hard work that they needed to succeed. Today, I’m relieved and glad that I let them go – I only wish I had done it sooner for most of them.
What would be on your failure resume?