Death of a Startup Company

Why Tobbagan failed, and why that's just fine with its co-founders.

Brian Dragotto (left) and Nick Yap.

Brian Dragotto (left) and Nick Yap.

Just a few years ago Nick Yap and Brian Dragotto had high hopes for their social media app Toboggan, but the 21-year-olds have now realized that the startup world can be an unforgiving place.

Toboggan offers “social points” to users that get the most likes on their photos or videos — and people can cash in those points for real prizes. The platform also curated content on leaderboards to display its most engaging photos or videos.

Cool concept for sure, but getting traction proved to be a struggle. Yap and Dragotto were only sophomores in college when they started building the app. Neither knew how to code, let alone launch a company. Plus the market is saturated with app startups — especially those trying to disrupt social media. For every Facebook or Snapchat, there are thousands of others that never make it.

But Dragotto had some extra cash laying around after winning nearly $300,000 on “Turbo Racing League,” a competition app launched by Dreamworks in conjunction with the 2013 film Turbo. So he invested approximately $3,000 to $5,000 in Toboggan to create an LLC and pay for licensing and lawyer fees. Although they were only able to generate 500 users, they got a crash-course in business.

“If you think about how much we’re paying in college tuition, $3,000 to 5,000 to learn how to code and run a business was a bargain,” said Dragotto, a senior at The College of New Jersey. “I learned more developing the app than anything my four-year business degree taught me.”

That’s not just a rosy outlook on a gloomy situation, said Yap.

“We could have spent at least $100,000 — if not more — by paying freelancers but we wouldn’t have gotten the benefit of learning how it all works,” said Yap a senior at the University of Florida. “I probably spent five hours a day on it but it didn’t feel like work for me. It was really fun.”

With graduation right around the corner, they’re both focused on other things. Yap is getting his MBA and Dragotto is a finance major eager to try his hand at the job market.

“At first it was fun and exciting every time new people would start using our app,” said Dragotto. “But once that slowed down a little bit, it lost its shine.”

Still, they learned a lot and have a really cool story to tell job or grad school interviewers.

“Toboggan helped me show I’m enthusiastic about product development,” said Yap. “It showed that I also enjoy the business side of things. Interviewers thought it was a real benefit.”

While they’re moving on from Toboggan, they say they’re not done with startups. Older, wiser and with the Toboggan experience under their belts, they’re hoping to team up on another venture in the future. But for now, Dragotto says, they’re just “clearing up their mental RAM.”

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