Part 2: Early Mistakes At Sampa

This is a series of 8 blog posts that will describe more about my experiences building Sampa, my mistakes and what would I have done differently.

About half-way through Sampa existence I’ve made a blog post named Top 7 Mistakes At Sampa. It’s pretty hard when you look back at 4+ years of work and not to find hundreds of mistakes you’ve made, small ones, big ones and everything in between. At the end of the day, the only mistakes that matter are those where you believe would have made a difference in the outcome of the company or made the journey better. Here are the key mistakes I believe I’ve made:

You Need A Co-Founder & Tell Friends

The two mistakes I’ve made out of the gate (i.e., even before I started working on Sampa) were to not look for a co-founder and to be stealth about the product. I actually believe we could have a better Sampa, shipped faster and be more customer focused if more people were in-the-know and if I had someone to split the work. I needed someone that was either not a developer, but would have good business, marketing and design skills, or someone that was a better developer than I was so I could shift at learning the business or marketing (and hire a designer). And the Stealth part is a no-brainer. After I told people what I was doing around September/2005 (9 months into Sampa) instead of having a lot of spies looking into Sampa, I’ve got my own army of friends-spies looking at what else was on the web and sending me a lot of good info, connecting me with key people and sending critical early feedback on the business.

Timing Is Important

I will write about the noise on the market in another post and how that affected us, and a lot of that could have been avoided if I had started Sampa 12 months earlier. Startup is all about timing. Some people think if they ship a month earlier they will “win”, and that’s BS. But a year can make a huge difference. If you are too early, the customers and the partners are not prepared to absorb that technology so you better have a lot of cash to keep fighting. If you are late, you have dozens of other companies doing very similar (or substitute) solutions. And that’s a tough marketing/branding battle.

Paid Is Different Than Free

When I started Sampa the business plan didn’t include any free offerings. As time went by, and I was about to ship Alpha 1 (Sep/05), the Web 2.0 wave was starting to hit and everyone was offering everything free. Add to the fact that doing a paid offering requires quite a bit of work and would limit the growth rate of Sampa, I changed the business to be free. I somewhat regret that decision. When I was on my early-20s my boss and I were talking about Pizzerias in Sao Paulo (there is about 1 every 3 blocks in the city) and he said “they only way someone can open a new pizzeria and be successful is if he charges 3 times as much”. Sorry to say this to the TechCrunch-reading crowd or to Chris Anderson but there is a correlation between price and perceived value. Free is perceived as “not as good”. Even on the Internet!

Create A Healthy Win-Win Ecosystem

Now, probably the biggest mistake of them all was not to find partners early enough, primarily companies that would be the distribution channels for Sampa, the companies providing design templates for our users and much more. First of all, when I left Microsoft I swear I didn’t even know what “business development” was. When you work at the Mothership, you don’t do partnerships. You seat and wait for all kinds of companies to present you with offerings and you just give thumbs up or down. On Startups you have to work long and hard.

Next post: The Market Noise And Facebook

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.