How To Disgracefully Wind Down Your Startup

empty-roomLately, there have been a number of articles on gracefully winding down your startup. While I’ve run a number of startups and gracefully wound them down myself, I just thought I’d tell you a little tale of a startup I was a user of who didn’t. A cautionary tale.

Back in 2005, I started a podcast called, strangely enough, the thinkfuture radio show. I started this after reading an interesting article in a Wired magazine about the death of radio. It talked about how podcasting was going to totally disrupt radio, basically by allowing the long tail, namely regular people like you and me the opportunity to talk to millions of people over the internet. No longer did those without a voice connected to a major media outlet have to toil in obscurity. But I digress.

Podcasting was a great boon to those of us with something to say. I was doing quite well on my show when I was approached by a startup who just got funding to create a podcasting network. All I had to do was to sign up, and not only would they host my shows for free, they’d also pay me a monthly bonus based on the number of subscribers I had. The only worry I, and other podcasters had, was control over our content. The contract plainly stated that we retained all rights to our content. So, cool.

So I, and many others, signed up. We did well for years, I made my bonuses and everything was going great.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I got a note that they were going to reduce our bonuses. I thought, no big deal, it was only pocket change so anything was fine with me. This was my first indication that there might be something amiss over there. Of course, there was no indication to anyone that there were any serious issues.

About a month later I got an abrupt note, terminating my contract, assuring me that they would continue to host all my podcasts in perpetuity. I kept going for a bit after that, but eventually got busy with other things and stopped doing the show.

A few months later, I decided to pick it up again. I attempted to upload a new show to no avail. Everything on the site looked exactly the same. So I thought, strange. I attempted to contact support, they told me that they had changed formats to short video pieces only (my stuff was all audio on their site) and that I had to move my content elsewhere . No problem, I thought.

So I attempted to download all 967 half hour episodes of my show. No dice. The feed looked ok, but all of the files were completely blank. So I pinged their support again. One response, saying that they would fix it.

Since then, nothing. I’ve attempted to contact them a million different ways, everything from forums, to online, to contacting former employees (all of which said good luck with that). Apparently they were dead. Website up, nobody home.

No one had any indication of what happened. And as far I know, all 500 plus hours of programming that I uploaded to their site over the 6 years I was with them was gone. Of course, I was an idiot for not keeping copies, but still, it’s a bad business.

When you start a business, you have a blank slate of trust. Because people see the value in your product, they engage with you. You build trust. I get it, you know, when you are running a startup that’s failing, you get desperate. You stop thinking about anything but getting those dollars in the door and keeping the lights on. But if you are going to go down, at least give your users the ability to take the stuff they trusted you with with them.

You think I’m ever going to do business with those founders ever again? Not likely. Even if their next startup is the next greatest thing. People remember this kind of stuff.