Like most New Years, my 2020 started off with a party. Jean-Paul and I attended a roaring 20’s New Years party which offered us the first opportunity to wear our tuxes since the wedding. I was very optimistic for the start of 2020; the start-up I co-founded and worked at full-time, Laila, was starting to find product-market fit after two years and it appeared poised to take off.
Though the year started off optimistic, it quickly digressed. My mother, who believed her acute lymphocytic leukemia was under control, received a terminal diagnosis on January 24. Less than three weeks later, on February 12, she had succumbed to the disease that she had fought so bravely and diligently for almost five years.
Her death was a difficult loss for many reasons, but what hurt the most was knowing that she will never have the opportunity to meet the family we plan to start. However, I was in the middle of running a startup and was determined to not let my emotional state affect the company or our performance.
Then came the pandemic
I’m very grateful that my family or I never contracted COVID-19; especially living in NY, a state hard hit by the pandemic. COVID’s direct impact on me was through my company. The nascent product-market fit Laila had found was with colleges and their students.
We had paid pilots lined up with schools to use Laila to:
- promote their student life activities and
- help their students make genuine connections with their peers offline.
In March, when colleges started to shutdown, the pilots were canceled while colleges refocused on the pandemic. We made a valiant effort to shift the product into a virtual activities service but it wasn’t successful; we had spent two years creating a service that focused extensively on offline activities and the hastily designed virtual activities just didn’t have the same impact.
By summer 2020, it became evident that schools were planning to slash budgets in the fall and we were uncertain if students would even be returning to campus. With so much uncertainly, we decided it was best to shutdown Laila and took our servers offline at the end of July. Looking back with hindsight, it was the right decision - schools are still struggling to deal with the pandemic. Timing and luck matters in startups and Laila was lacking in both of those.
So what’s up with the blog?
2020 was an impactful year for all of us. For all the bad that happened that year there has also been silver linings - it made many of us focus on what really matters in life: health, family, and purpose.
I realized that I had been so singularly focused these last few years that I neglected things that really matter. Open Fail is one of the ways I’m committing to improve.
I’m fortunate because I know my purpose in life:
To build impactful companies and to help others
My ambition is that this blog will help me reflect while starting my next company and will help others who are considering or are currently going through a similar journey.
While the world optimistically looks to 2021 as a fresh start there is still a lot of uncertainty ahead of us:
- Will the vaccine work as we hope
- What is our new normal and the lasting impact of COVID-19
- Will the next decade feel more like the roaring 1920s or the depressing 1930s
With all this uncertainty, I am certain of one thing: 2020 was a pivotal moment in my life full of growth and change and I am more excited than ever for what the future holds.