[quote style=”boxed”]That’s one of the gifts of being an entrepreneur – you’re constantly starting new projects, or taking them in new directions. For me, it’s less about wanting to go back and do something differently – and more about applying everything I’m learning to whatever’s coming next.[/quote]
Audrey Melnik is founder and developer of WotWentWrong, a new online venture offering closure and answers for relationships past – and a blueprint for future dating success – directly from one’s former partners.
Passionate about the intersection of internet technology and business, Melnik has successfully developed and enhanced the online businesses for both corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Australia, including Pfizer, Yellow Pages and GE Money. In 2006 she was instrumental in helping Australian career-building website LinkMe evolve from startup to $10 million valuation in six months.
Melnik previously lived in New York City, where she was a part of the Sex and the City dating lifestyle and its occasional dysfunction, as well as New York’s thriving tech community. She credits the city with her inspiration for WotWentWrong, realizing the web could coax former dating partners into spilling their secrets in a way people could not. She hopes the web app will help people from both sides of a relationship learn and grow.
Melnik received a Bachelor of Business Systems on scholarship from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where she currently resides.
What are you working on right now?
I launched a startup last January. WotWentWrong is the “breakup app for couples who never broke up.” It’s a free website for anyone to request feedback from a dating partner who “just vanished.” Daters get closure and invaluable pointers from their former partners, allowing them to move on while improving chances for success in future relationships.
Specifically, I’m working pretty intensely at the moment preparing significant new social functionalities for the next version of WotWentWrong. These are expected to debut later this year.
Where did the idea for WotWentWrong come from?
I think everyone has, at one time or another, experienced a situation where they thought things went well on a date, only to never hear from the person again. It’s happened to me, and it’s happened to my friends.
There was definitely someone in my life who helped ‘inspire’ me to create WotWentWrong. A few years ago I had a first-date with someone, who I’d actually known for a number of years. He contacted me through Facebook a few months after ending a long-term relationship. We had a great first date – drinks, dinner, and he invited me up to his place for a goodnight kiss. He initiated all of it. Then…he vanished. No follow-up call, no more communication from him, nothing.
It didn’t make sense to me – why would he invite me up to his place if he wasn’t interested? I really wanted to know the reason, but there was just no socially acceptable way for me to find out. I couldn’t call – unless I wanted a reputation as a stalker, and an email could have gotten forwarded to his friends and turned me into a joke. So, I wound up creating my own way to get this kind of information in these unfortunate situations.
What does your typical day look like?
A lot of the people I deal with are in various different time zones. I’m currently based in Melbourne, Australia which means I spend my mornings talking to people in the US and my afternoons and early evening talking with my team members, who are based in Israel. I do have a couple others working with me who are closer to my time zone, so I’ll usually catch up with them midday.
During breakfast, I check my email so I can see if I need to respond quickly to anything that’s occurred overnight. During my morning walk I’ll listen to several podcasts – usually related to tech, startups or dating & relationships. The rest of my day is pretty non-standard – it can include anything from business development activities to creating or reviewing content for the blog and social media, working on the details of the next feature for WotWentWrong, or talking to current WotWentWrong customers to get their feedback.
I also do a lot of traveling – In the last year I spent four months in Tel Aviv, visited the Philippines for work, traveled to Austin for the SXSW Interactive conference in March and spent time networking in San Francisco.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Once I have a concept for what I want to build, I present it to my developers who are then very honest about what they like and dislike about it. We will then work together to improve the concept from its original inception, going back and forth until we are satisfied with it. The next stage is the mockup stage where we elaborate on the concept further to how it will look to the user. This involves several iterations as well. After that, my graphic designer will produce designs based on the mockups, and she will provide her input to improve upon the design further.
Then my developers begin implementing. I’m still very involved in this process, making decisions on details and giving direction to my developers that will ensure what we build is robust and extensible. I know I’m a lot more prescriptive and demanding than most of the people that my developers have worked with in the past, but my experience and direction shows through in the quality of the end product. Once the developers complete it, then we conduct testing and try to break it, so we can iron out any of the defects in the code. Once we are satisfied, we release the functionality to a small group of people to test it further. After that we’re ready to release it to the public!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I think personalization is a huge trend and has a long way to go. Technology has progressed to a point where the potential for personalization in products and services is not only possible but inevitable as a way to improve the quality of our lives. I’m inspired by the School of One and what it is trying to achieve in the personalization space to improve the education industry – it’s due for a major disruption.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that I can define as my worst job. With every job there are positives and negatives. I’ve had some jobs where I haven’t felt like it’s all that interesting and that there wasn’t much opportunity for me to learn. But in those roles I made sure that there was always something that I could take from the experience and I also manufacture different opportunities to learn and grow, whether it was by learning a new tool or by setting goals for myself to achieve things within a certain time period, improving my efficiency in a task.
Throughout my career I’ve always been very conscious of ensuring that my skills are marketable, because marketability gives me options for how to navigate my career. I know that if for some (crazy) reason this company doesn’t take off, I have some very marketable skills that I can fall back on to find work in the future.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
That’s one of the gifts of being an entrepreneur – you’re constantly starting new projects, or taking them in new directions. For me, it’s less about wanting to go back and do something differently – and more about applying everything I’m learning to whatever’s coming next.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Try new things. Experience can help us hone skills and increase efficiencies, but the flip side is we rely on routines or develop habits that limit us. I’m not afraid to try something new – and step outside my own comfort zone. Whether it’s a new web tool meant to boost productivity, the next social network promised to be awesome, a networking conference recommended by a friend, or a physical activity you haven’t tried yet – how do you really know what it can do for you without trying it?
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One problem I’ve experienced so far has been finding the right creative people to work with me. WotWentWrong’s design is actually the third iteration (from as many designers). I didn’t feel the previous designs hit the mark. And I knew it was important to get the design right. When you have a new website, you can have the most fantastic functionality in the world, but if it doesn’t look good, people won’t want to use it.
I had a similar challenge with the introductory video we created. The first animator didn’t have the right aesthetic, and I had to start from scratch with a second animator. I actually found someone fantastic by posting an ad on the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s site. I ended up employing a recent graduate from their animation course.
I learned that sometimes you have to come to terms with the fact that you made a wrong hire, the money you invested in them is a sunk cost and you need to spend that money all over again (and maybe more) to get the result you want.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think the Big Data trend is only just beginning. If I were to start a new business right now outside of WotWentWrong, I would build something that would serve the Big Data market in some way.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I could give the beauty contestant answer here and say world peace, but I’ll try something a little closer to home. One thing that really irks me is that the medical profession refuses to acknowledge the value of their patients’ time. I have been kept waiting in waiting rooms from anywhere between half an hour and 4 hours, and it baffles me that this is still considered acceptable! And this happens across the board to doctors of all specialties! Many of them are not performing life-saving functions. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve considered sending them a bill for my lost hours! Perhaps we should start a class action law suit…
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Asana is a new project management tool I’ve begun using with all my WotWentWrong collaborators. More than just keeping me organized, it keeps my projects moving forward.
I listen to podcasts in the startup and dating industries while I exercise – Stitcher Radio is an iPhone app that makes this very easy – no syncing with my PC required.
And of course, I can’t live without Google Analytics. Data is oxygen.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Startup Nation – A book about how the tiny country of Israel, surrounded by enemies has produced more startup companies than many large stable nations. It explains how the culture of Israel has had a big hand in that success. I believe for startups especially, but not exclusively, the culture and attitudes of the people you work with is crucial to your success. We need to move away from companies that have strong hierarchies where it is a crime to question your boss and move towards companies where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and presenting their point of view, even if it differs from that of their superiors.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
When I saw this website – misstravel.com: one step away from mail order brides.
Who is your hero?
Bethenny Frankel – I’m inspired by her success and the perseverance she has demonstrated to get to where she is now. Even now, she doesn’t take her success for granted and remains grounded. She’s also managed to have a baby in the middle of it and has grown her business dramatically at the same time – a true multi-tasker. And she has the courage to do it all in front of the camera – warts and all – on her Bravo TV show.
What made you decide to start your own web business?
My background is in IT Consulting. As a consultant you have a core set of skills, but you are often presented with new roles and challenges where you may not have direct experience in that role before. So I’m used to being thrown in at the deep end and figuring out how to succeed in that role along the way – I think that’s a key trait for any startup CEO.
A few years back, I helped one client go from an idea on two pieces of paper to a web business that was launched and quickly valued at $10 million before the end of its first year. Whenever I was asked what my ideal job was, I would think of that project – I realized working with startups is what I really enjoy. I love to create something from nothing.
So when I came up with the idea for WotWentWrong, the cost of software development was significantly less than it had been in previous years, so I thought if there was ever going to be a time for me to take the plunge, it was then. In a way I was lucky, because I had already left the safety of a permanent job many years ago in favor of my own IT consulting business and I was accustomed to working for myself. It wasn’t as scary to stop working – and forego the guaranteed salary that comes along with it – in order to dedicate myself to launching WotWentWrong.
Audrey Melnik on LinkedIn: http://au.linkedin.com/in/audreymelnik.