FailedIt: AbsoluteCards – My First Online Failure
In 1998 the internet was still fairly young, but it was clear that it was the next… everything. I had email for several years and my own “homesite” for a couple years. We lived in Sweden for 1997 and I used a webpage to post updates and pictures of our life and travels.
Read the whole FailedIt Series.
Our story begins nearly 20 years ago…
My wife was getting fairly crafty and she would make these homemade greeting cards that really blew my mind. It was great how you could get just amazing paper at stores, scissors that cut in patterns, little bears and such to glue on them and more. She could really make some great looking cards.
And they didn’t look like “professional” cards or anything – they looked “hand crafted.” There’s a marketing word. I probably should have used that… maybe I did.
Anyway, right at that time, PayPal.com was just starting and if you signed up, you got $5 free credit. WHAT?! Free money? Yep. If you ever want to launch a business and get attention, give away money. I’m not saying it will work, but you’ll get some attention… well, you’ll get my attention. And here we go!
Also, if you referred someone to sign up, you got $5 too!
So I wanted to start an online business where we’d make cards for people and take PayPal as the payment. Who wants to figure out how to actually take credit cards online, most people were still pretty paranoid about typing in their credit card (for good reason) – there were plenty of reasons to want to go with PayPal. Including, free money.
Well, if you signed up for PayPal through our business, you’d get $5 from paypal and we’d get $5 from paypal for the referral. But, we’d give you our $5 so you’d really get $10. However, we’d give you that $5 as credit for a greeting card. But still, you’re basically getting a free card from us and $5 from PayPal.
But I guess I was wrong about getting attention if you give away money. #Failedit
So I started the site: AbsoluteCards.com (not sure what it is now). Spoiler alert – it didn’t take off and wasn’t even in business long so I don’t have the domain anymore.
I offered all types of customization. We would handwrite or print a personal message. We would print out and include a picture if you emailed it in. We could print in/on the card or on a separate piece of paper a message or your signature (from an image). You could pick colors, additions to be glued on… on and on.
Also, you could mail us your Christmas card address list or similar and we’d make cards and mail them out.
Beyond just the site never really going anywhere, I (like I’ve done with so many projects) went all ‘abstract’ on it. I decided, instead of making a website to do all of this, I’d make a website that could do all of it for any type of business. It read in a text file with a certain format and built the site.
If you wanted a greeting card store with this background image, these products, prices, etc. and a shopping cart with PayPal checkout, you just had to write the text file and run the site.
I actually did reuse that code to create a website for a friend. It worked well right out of the box and it’s still up: tattooyourheart.com
However, I spent hours and hours writing that code to build the site… that no one used.
Remember, the internet was a baby. Very few people had “high speed internet” in their homes. PayPal was brand new. So why would anyone ever hear of my site? The answer is: they wouldn’t.
Spend time on what matters. Most things take time
We did have one sale. My sister-in-law. We sent a card to her parents. People tried to help get the word out, but at this point with everything you probably know why it didn’t work. Back then, people were pretty dreamy-eyed about the internet: build a site and make millions. Right? The same way some think about apps now. I wonder if people thought the same thing about the printing press???
The two things I failed at with this business – this being one of my first business ideas to fail at and certainly the first online business I failed at.
The first thing was the product. Not the cards but the website. I was too heavy weighted on the development side of the website. I spent a lot of time making it customizable as opposed to focusing on what would make money. The site needed to be polished and work, of course. But I didn’t need to build a store-front generating engine.
Several months earlier a friend of mine and I built something similar in a sense. It was a website template. We wanted to go to businesses and offer to build a website. Looking back now, that was a huge missed opportunity. NO ONE had websites back then. The challenge would have been to convince them they needed one. A mechanic needs a website? They didn’t think so.
But even if we didn’t convince them, we could have make contacts and when they did need one, they’d hopefully come to us. Even the newspaper didn’t have one – that would have been a huge win.
It was a cool template, but again, all the time was spent on creating the engine and nothing for the business.
For the greeting cards, I should have built a MVP (minimally viable product) – get the site working and improve it as necessary. As the business directed.
The second area I failed in was in marketing. There’s a ton of routes I can think of now that I could have done… maybe. Were google ads even around back then? I’m not sure how I would have marketed it, but that’s what I needed to do.
The greatest product, book, movie, song, website or anything else won’t do anything if no one hears about it.
Now I know about MVP and prequalifying ideas and such. Sometimes I even prequalify blog posts. I come up with the title and such and post something that basically amounts to “coming soon.” Then if it gets good traction with SEO and such, I’ll go back and fill it in with full content.
The idea is, spend the time on what matters. That might be marketing for a website or calling on clients. My brother was in sales and did well. When people asked what his “secret” was he just said “I spend time with the client.” He didn’t spend all his time at the office or even making calls… go to the client. They value the attention and the relationship grows.
Spend time on what matters. Most things take time – if you want to be able to play guitar well, practice. Don’t spent 90% of your time reading about guitars or even music theory necessarily. Practice. Warning: Musicians may read this and correct me in the comments. 🙂
If you want to learn how to fly planes, practice. Reading and studying are good and necessary. But practice – do the thing! Keep the main thing, the main thing. Remember why you’re doing it. Focus. Feed what grows.
Feel free to share your favorite motivational quote in the comments!
For some reason I decided to include a page on the AC site that allowed you to create novelty names. I put it up here as a warning about not getting distracted. 🙂 It’s a bit embarrassing, but remember this was nearly 20 years ago!
Originally this post had only 1 image and it wasn’t anything to do with the cards. But I looked back in the Bearchives and found the whole site! You’re welcome. 😉
This failure can represent many other failures that came after it of online business including the Video Exchange Community. It was a way to list, request, check-out DVDs between friends.
I tried my hand at making some cards – they weren’t as good as my wife’s efforts…
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