The Dojo Experience

Shahab
3 min readSep 7, 2015

The Unique Lessons Learned from the Failure of Dojo

This is a story about a bunch of kids who wanted to build a ruckus-machine. A conglomerate of polarizing content that would push the limits of political correctness and provide a spotlight on underground content. This is a story about failure, mistakes, anger and confusion.

It started with a recent high school graduate named Minu Palaniappan and a college junior named Michael Zuccarino attempting to build a platform that would revolutionize the social tech field by opening it to self-expression and creative thinking. The idea was simple, to create an app which would present an easier way to discover local communities without the constraints and limitations inherent in most of the preceding apps in the field. Here are some of the lessons learned and experiences had during Dojo’s lifetime.

The Creative Process

The idea of Dojo came about when Michael first introduced the idea of socializing between dorm rooms. The prototype was janky, buggy and ugly. The idea was there though — a simple network that provided neighboring students to facilitate their day-to-day lives and enjoy their moments through a virtual setting.

After endless pit stops to Arby’s BBQ and late nights hack sessions while developing and designing the application, we believed we were ready to test it on a campus. Fortunately, I was heading to Davis, the perfect campus to promote a social network that could enrich the dorm experience.

Hiring

Minu and Michael hired their first non-engineering team member, who will be called Ken to protect his identity, at the end of the first summer they had spent working on the app. Minu had worked previously with Ken on another startup and wanted him to manage operations, and maintain recruitment and legal matters. It was hard for Ken to stay involved in the early stages as our product development was not up to par and there was clearly a disconnect between the engineering staff and Ken as a non-engineering team member. As the summer passed, he slowly lost the fire that he had once had because he simply wasn’t the right fit for the company and was involved more and more with his fraternity. He took a leave of absence until the summer of 2015, when we had a revamped product. This was one of many failed hires which exemplified the importance of ensuring that all team members were passionate about the endeavor and willing to devote the time necessary for its success.

Marketing

Minu and Michael scheduled the app’s launch for a weekend in November 2014, at which time Michael came up to Davis. The first night of that launch weekend was spent going door-to-door soliciting feedback on the app’s design and functionality, while the second night was spent talking to students who were waiting to go inside parties on campus. At that point, the app experienced some initial traction as the football team temporarily expressed interest in the app, however, in the long term it became clear that one of the major lessons to be learned was the importance of proper marketing to an app’s success.

The story of Dojo is one of great experiences and important lessons learned, but ultimately at its core Dojo is a story about an app which was loved by its creators but hated by the potential market. From the early difficulties with hiring to the app’s ultimate failure to gain traction, Dojo faced insurmountable difficulties, however, Minu and Michael labored valiantly against such long odds because they believed in Dojo and what they felt it represented. In so doing, they showed the best of the app development field, namely the dedication of the developers to the cause they have taken up.

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Shahab

Political sector veteran in the private sector