Six Startup Lessons Learned From WUPHF.com

November 22, 2010

10:01 pm

This past week, NBC’s The Office focused on innovation as Ryan, played by B.J. Novak, took a shot at creating his own startup called WUPHF.com (pronounced like a barking dog, “woof”) which clearly takes a jab at social networking products like Facebook and Twitter. While the episode was a clear spoof of Silicon Valley product development, their are a few things we can learn from the comedic efforts. So, we thought we would take a closer look and help future entrepreneurs avoid these pitfalls.

If you need a quick overview on WUPHF check out the highlights from the episode (below).

1.) Select Investors That Bring Something To The Table
Ryan got his investment money for the venture from co-workers – who see him every single day, don’t have much money to lose, don’t really understand the business and are not comfortable with the ups and downs of a new startup. Lesson: Select qualified and experienced investors who understand your business and bring something to the table.

2.) Have A Measurable Marketing and Distribution Plan
While Ryan didn’t have a real plan in place, he did have pretty charts with big numbers on them and lots of branded fitted girl t-shirts and condoms for spring breakers. Lesson: Empty marketing plans don’t fool anyone these days. Have a real plan and use any marketing budget you have wisely. Most notably if you are going to spend money on marketing swag, try to make the item measurable in some way by including a call-to-action, a QR code or something else.

3.) Know Your Advocates
When times got tough, Ryan had only one advocate amongst his investors, Michael. But Ryan abused that relationship and quickly lost his support, leading to the downfall of WUPHF. Lesson: You may be the CEO, but without a strong advocate among your investors or board, you may get axed or outvoted.

4.) Be Prepared
In his investor meeting, Ryan was not prepared to talk abut how to move his product forward. He never anticipated the tough questions. For his potential investors all he had was a slick marketing pitch and nothing to back it up – and Ryan was not at all prepared to answer the tough questions – instead he handed out WUPHF branded condoms. Lesson: Be sure to understand your audience and what questions they may ask.

5.) Moonlighting Means After Hours
Ryan was creating all of his marketing materials using Dunder Mifflin resources and working on WUPHF during business hours. The people who weren’t invested were not comfortable with the situation, but those who were invested were fine. Lesson: We are all for moonlighting, but do it at night and don’t steal company resources from your day job.

6.) The Pitch
Finally, Ryan pitched his investors openly on the web in a very casual manner. This lazy pitch, full of fluff, is a great example of what not to say, not to mention we wouldn’t recommend pitching your investors online. Give it a read here:

As the founder, and as a friend, I would like to urge you to consider investing in our dynamic company, WUPHF.com. Have you seen the film The Social Network? Well this site is every bit as good as that movie. Not only is this company going to earn you crazy money, I guarantee it, it will also give you the opportunity to get on the ground floor of something big! Looking back, don’t you wish you bought Google stock back in 2002? Don’t you regret not buying Microsoft bonds back in the early 90s? Now’s your chance to right all the wrongs of your past – invest in WUPHF today.

Whatever you can invest will be greatly appreciated. Please try to throw in at least four digits past the deci point though. If you do, I’ll send you a stack of bumper stickers and a couple WUPHF t-shirts. Think about it.

Lesson: When it comes to getting investors, you’re likely to get out of it what you put into it.

So ultimately the WUPHF.com product fell short and ended up selling out to a university that wanted the URL, but hopefully Ryan, a young entrepreneur, learned some lessons along the way and will be back to starting up again soon. We can’t wait to see his next attempt.

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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