Instead of singing praises and sharing best practices, Philly’s startup community gathered this month to do the opposite: share their biggest failures.
At the annual Founder Factory led by Philly Startup Leaders, company leaders across the region shared lighting talks about their worst moments. From layoffs to cofounder breakups, these entrepreneurs explained what these bad moments have taught them.
App development company JumpButton Studio’s Nicodemus Madehdou focused on one unique facet of his foundership — being young. The decade-old venture was formed as a gaming company by Madehdou and three cofounders while they were in high school, and a few of the company’s flubs happened during that time, he said.
He’d started the company because he was using gaming himself to find friends and connection. By ninth grade, he was shooting his shot at internships at Comcast and Facebook.
“I was experiencing how games can break down barriers, and became very intrigued by the space,” Madehdou said. “Gaming became a very central piece as I learned how it needed more diverse voices and innovation.”
While everything on the outside looked pretty surreal — for instance, at just 19, Madehdou was honored at the White House with other young game developers of color who won a $1,000 grant to keep building socially minded game projects — he ran into some hardships with the business.
We took a big loss. But it forced us to think, how do we solve for this now?
Like most teenagers, Madehdou didn’t have the connections or network to support a friends and family round. He and his cofounders had big plans, but didn’t realize they needed cash to pull those plans off. He also faltered when it came to connecting with angel investors later down the line. Cash flow and management were hard to get a handle on without prior experience, he said.
A prime example? The team was sued while in high school after taking on a $10,000 project. They quickly burned through about $50,000 in expenses, and needed a lawyer to rectify the situation.
“We took a big loss,” Madehdou said. “But it forced us to think, how do we solve for this now?”
Another set of lessons learned came when the team experimented with getting into mainstream media. They were aiming to connect with kids without having to sell themselves directly to them, the founder said. They created good partnerships, but didn’t do their due diligence.
“We did not properly make sure agreements between influencer and business were set in stone,” Madehdou said.
Over a few years, two of the four original cofounders left the venture. As the remaining team grew in age and experience, Madehdou said, things like decision making, networking and relationship building got easier.
In recent years, JumpButton has worked with local startups on app development, and on animation projects such as the youth-supported Night of the Living Tacos. In 2020, Madehdou gave props to orgs like CIC Philadelphia and Temple University, which helped him out early on in his career.
While Madehdou doesn’t game much anymore — “it’s all business now” — his goal and vision is to remain here in Philly and grow in the local tech community.
“And to make sure young kids know they can stay, too,” he said.
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