Yes, Hollywood often portrays the life of an entrepreneur to be glamorous, filled with overnight successes, and even hard cash to prove it. But in reality, entrepreneurship is not so black and white; entrepreneurs go through a hectic roller coaster during their startup journeys. It is often a long, tiring, and even discouraging road, filled with uncertainties, ups and downs, and small victories. But apart from entrepreneurs who have this experience, and perhaps a few people close to them, most of us have no idea what the gruelling everyday life of an entrepreneur looks like.
The Israeli entrepreneur Asaf Avidan Antonir wanted to change that. He decided to video record his entire entrepreneurial journey: from the ideation phase, through the pivots, raising capital and disappointing pitches to funds, to the first paying customers and the long-awaited exit worth millions of dollars.
He started out using his sister's room as a home office. He eventually sold the company
In the video, Avidan Antonir documents the entire life process of the startup he founded together with his partner, James Sha, whom he met when studying at Berkeley. It includes the beginning phases of unsuccessful ideas in 2017 (when he was only 24 years old) such as putting sonar on drones to cover large fishing areas or focusing on e-commerce and fashion with video analysis. Though they had had meetings with media outlets such as Mashable, Wall Street Journal and Vox (the parent company of The Verge), one such meeting didn't go as planned; the outlet could not figure out what they were doing, and eventually hung up on them mid-conversation. It was after this, that they decided to pivot to a different direction and approach.
The two threw their initial ideas into the trash and decided to establish Onyx, a startup that developed a fitness app that uses the depth cameras of the iPhone to track the performance of the exercisers in real time. You can see in the video that Avidan Antonir records himself watching the iPhone X announcement, to see what innovations were expected to come from the iPhone, knowing very well it would affect their idea. t
Once they had a working demo in their pockets, they started to turn to VC. But things didn't per se go according to plan. This was when they got their first rejection from potential investors. But, by the same token, eventually, they succeeded in closing funding, and this too is shown in their video journey.
Throughout the video, we are exposed to frustrating moments familiar to many entrepreneurs – such as the beta not being ready in time; Apple's first approval for uploading the app to the App Store and it appearing on the main page; the first time they monetized; transitioning from using his sister's room as an office to “real” office space; the first closures that led to a jump in downloads; the first acquisition offer they refused; an investor ghosted them in the middle of the process and finding out about a competing company that develops the same product.
The video ends after the two receive an acquisition offer and document themselves in the processes of receiving the term sheet, doing the due diligence, and finally selling the company to Cure.fit. According to reports, the company was sold for over $12 million, with each of the entrepreneurs pocketing about $5 million.
When the documentation is just as important as the project itself
Although the video does not document critical business moments like meetings with investors and potential buyers, it does offer a glimpse of how much the two invested in this company, be it physical or mental energy that such a process entails. In a conversation with Geektime, Avidan Antonir said that the video you see is the result of about a month's worth of work using about 8 hours of raw footage. They were able to reduce it to 45 minutes, and then after some more editing with the help of his brother (who works as a director and video editor), they were able to get it down to approx. 25 minutes. From my conversation with him, he treats the video project as equally important to the startup for him. When I asked him why he even bothered to shoot at all, when he knew the chances of it ending were more likely to be with the closure of the company than an acquisition, he said "I've always been into content. I wanted to make a project out of it. I sort of thought that if I was documenting it, I had to succeed. Of course, there were moments when we were less successful, but I kept telling myself that we would eventually succeed. Even though we knew the chance of success was small...I told myself that if we founded a startup, we would try to do something big. That was the beginning, and James didn't understand what I wanted.”
If you failed, would you have released the video?
"That all depends on how it would have ended. Even if there was no exit, it depends on what would have happened. There is a good chance I would have released the video but maybe I would do it differently. There would be value in this too. I wanted people to have the opportunity to see the process, and maybe learn from our mistakes. There were so many times where I told myself that if we wouldn’t succeed, the video would still be a tool for learning, and perhaps not one about success.”
Avidan Antonir said that even though James, his partner, was sometimes off put by the filming, he never asked him to stop. "James is the most fluid person I've ever met, even in the most difficult moments and during the entire filming process. You can see in the video that sometimes I catch him when he doesn’t notice and rolls his eyes. But it didn't bother him. The thing is, he didn't really understand my vision for it. But right before we released the video, we had a viewing party and he saw it for the first time. He was pleasantly surprised that we captured moments he doesn't even remember. In the end, he was happy we did it.” According to Avidan Antonir, the only moments that did not make it into the final film were moments when he was extremely down and out: "There were parts of the journey that were a real mess. There were moments when things didn’t go well– when growth stopped for a few weeks or meetings didn't go as planned. These are parts that you don't always have the strength to record, even though for the most part, I always had this project in mind, so I documented almost everything.” However, he does regret not documenting the moments when the two talked about another potential sale down the road and a 3-hour meeting with executives in San Francisco. "These are moments that could have been interesting to include, but realistically, I look back on them and realize they are just footnotes in the story."
"Everyone tells you that founding a startup is fun. You also only see success stories on LinkedIn. We wanted to show what the story really is."
"Take the risk. At the very least, you will learn a lot and can try again.”
We are interested in the difference between reality and what is presented to us in the media or on a LinkedIn post: "I mainly want people to see what the process of building a startup looks like. This is the process we went through, and others may go through a different one. I have many good friends who built companies with completely different endings. At some point, we all dreamed of building a company and just started without knowing what that really meant. People will tell you it's hard, that it can be very lonely, and that it's a lot of fun; oftentimes, you only see people's successes on LinkedIn, nothing to the contrary. We wanted to show what the story really is, to show the ups and downs. We saw it as an opportunity to do an interesting project where you can share the experience, and I hope that at the very least, it's something enjoyable to watch, even if you don't learn anything from it.”
When I ask him what message he wants to convey to young entrepreneurs who might watch the video and decide whether or not to pursue their dream, he replies: "The lesson is simple, if it's something you want to do. Start and try. At most, it will take six months or a year. We were in a privileged place– we could go for it and our parents supported us, so we were able to work for several years. If you can take the risk, take it. At the very least, you will learn a lot and can try again later on.”
In the meantime, the two are already talking about founding another startup. Will this journey also be documented? "Good question, but most likely not. Once was enough, but maybe in a few months, I will change my mind. There’s not a bad chance, but after seeing the work it took, I would rather concentrate 100% on the startup itself and not on the video.”