About three months ago, a good friend of mine named Gregg convinced me to donate invest a very small amount with him, and several others, in some horses. I know next to nothing about horses but thought it could be fun. I've been to Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York several times and always had a great time. We wound up buying a 5% share of three different horses, all two years old, all ready to race - or so we were told.
After a summer of delays, excuses, and scratches; one of our horses, a filly named A Plus, was finally ready to race. So my little brother and I took a trip up Belmont Racetrack on Long Island, not too far from my house. We got there in plenty of time to get a hot tip from the parking attendant, re-learn the difference between an exacta, boxed exacta, and daily double; and to get our donations bets down on A Plus. Believe it or not she was the favorite and running with just only 5 other horses so we actually had a reasonable chance.
We got to the rail right before post time, and since they were starting on the opposite side of the track, watched them begin to get the horses into the gate from some large TV displays on the track. From somewhere in the crowd, I heard a yell "Hey! Look! A horse is already running." Immediately I knew this must be our horse. I looked up at the TV Display, and there was A Plus running full speed around the track, without her jockey that she somehow managed to dislodge at the gate. As she rounded the bend, heading the wrong direction, I managed to snap the below picture as the crowd cheered her on.
After running completely around the track, they were finally able to calm A Plus down, who was then scratched from the race. What a bummer. I immediately called my friend Gregg to convey the events that just had unfolded. After convincing him that I wasn't BS'ing him, he had only question for me - "Well, was she fast?"
This happens in business all the time. We're often in such a rush that we don't pick up our heads to make sure we're headed in the right direction.
When I started Billtrust back in 2001, I convinced myself that we were going to be the ultimate outsourced billing solution for the QuickBooks marketplace. They had over 2 million customers, all of which would be candidates for our CompleteBilling service. We developed an integrated QuickBooks offering to transmit invoices over the internet to our servers, built a web site to market the solution, and signed up for the QuickBooks marketplace to drive some customers. After three months of hectic development, we launched our first version of CompleteBilling.
Six months later we pulled the plug and stopped marketing to the QuickBooks audience. It wound up that the QuickBooks customers just didn't have enough pain to justify going through an outsourcing decision. We were moving so fast, and in such a rush to get a product to market; that we didn't do enough up front market research to validate that this was a problem worth solving. Fortunately, we were able to reuse the majority of the technology we developed when we went after bigger clients.
Funny thing though, a little while after we launched our offering, Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, began offering a similar service to the market. It took them about two years to shut it down for what I assume are the same reasons.
So two takeaway lessons from this:
1. It doesn't matter how fast you're going if you're headed in the wrong direction.
2. It's OK to fail, but if you do, make it fast, so that that you have ample time for recovery.
P.S. - Our horse A Plus is scheduled to race again this weekend. Hopefully the jockey can hang on this time.