Spilling my guts into an End-of-Life email

I was starring at the “Send” button and felt nervous to my stomach. Is this it? This email?

After six years of crazy experiences, I had finally pulled myself together to shut down my company. It required some courage to share my story of struggle with thousands of people and I was anxious about what the response would be.

Will they hate me for it? The email looked like a strange mix of agony and inner peace, but now it was going out. Done.

The response was so overwhelming. Here’s what the email said:

Why kill a good service? The Frankenstein story
When I had the idea for Screenmailer almost six years ago my vision for the creation was clear. I needed a screen recording service that was built to be fast and efficient for video communication and I was ready to pour my heart and soul into building it on evenings and weekends.

And so I did. With Victor Frankenstein’s passion I coded and coded because I had to see this product come to life. I was the creator, but in my long sessions of early creation I never contemplated the burdens Screenmailer would later bring.

From the moment I had a beta version of Screenmailer in my hands, I knew that the product was powerful. I thought about the millions of people that could benefit from using the service and this was the first moment where my own creation started to scare me. “Screenmailer have the potential to make a difference for so many people!” I thought. So I felt an obligation to bring it to the world.

The problem was, I was also the co-founder of two other companies. I had fantastic colleagues at AutoUncle and my role as CTO was important for the growth and impact of that company. This was a terrible dilemma, I can tell you.

I loved what I did, but after seeing Screenmailer come to life, I couldn’t just put it away. So I trusted destiny that Screenmailer would be my path and dedicated myself to it.

My plan was to finish a few important product features and make sure that Screenmailer could also be used on Windows. Meanwhile, I’d try to experiment with ways to spread the word about the product and eventually turn it into a revenue-driving business. Almost six years ago, that wasn’t so easy. I had raving early adopters that absolutely loved the product, but not many that were ready to pay for it.

“It’s a fantastic product! but it’s sort of free, right? Like Skype!”

Could investors help Screenmailer take off?
I understood the facts. For Screenmailer to become big, I needed to find a way to fund the growth. I could either try to raise money and just see where the rocket would take me or keep costs low and iterate until I had built up a healthy customer base with steady growth. So I tested the waters and met with investors in Denmark. Some saw an early “Skype-like potential”, but for some reason talking to those people didn’t feel right. One wealthy investor that had sold his own technology company stood out. He understood why Screenmailer was powerful, but had a healthy sense of risk. “Jonas, I’m really impressed! I’d invest in you in a heart-beat, just not with this project.” he said.

Maybe I was too honest in my conversations with investors. I didn’t feel good about raising a ton of money to bet on turning free into something. Thank you for not investing, Tim!

Overworked, broke and lonely. Not an uncommon feeling of ending the day.

At this point the user base was growing slowly and my virtual Frankenstein was alive and hungry. Or maybe I was the hungry person. The income I had from the few users that turned into paying customers couldn’t cover for server expenses. Thankfully, I had been invited to join a startup program in Chile which would generate a small amount of money to develop the company. It just required me to move from Denmark to South American and work out of Santiago de Chile.

Selling all my possessions
My Frankenstein needed me and I decided that I had to just go for it. Around that time I got featured in newspapers and radio as the brave entrepreneur who was selling everything he owned in search for adventure and fortune on the other side of the world. It was exciting. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it seemed it would be rich in experiences. At an award show in Norway where I won an award for being the best developer in the Nordic countries, I almost succeeded in seducing the lead singer of a popular Norwegian band. Thank god she rejected me and kept me from getting too drunk on life.

It was a time of lots of ups and downs.

I cried at the airport when I left to fly to Chile. Not because I was scared about leaving Denmark, but because I felt a shameful gratitude for the support from my family and friends. Everything in my life was about me and my virtual monster which must have seemed quite egoistic to some people. Despite that, I received nothing but unconditional support. I’ll never forget that — without paying much attention to it, I really had the most wonderful role models in life.

Running a marathon in quicksand
The startup program in Chile turned out not to be exactly what I had hoped for. I made friends with wonderful people from all over the world and had experiences that help shape me as a person. But from a business standpoint it was a disaster. My First World go-getter ego was crushed by the inescapable bad internet connections and the overwhelming bureaucracy that existed in Chile.

Chile has a lot to offer when you get outside the office.

Without building too much debt, I managed to release a version of Screenmailer for Windows that received a warm welcome. It was almost identical in its simplicity to the Mac version. Unfortunately, so was the attitude of Windows users. They loved it, mostly because it was free.

Before I knew it, more than a year had passed with Santiago de Chile as my primary base. The consistent lack of economic traction felt like running a marathon in quicksand and I was starting to realise that I did not have the combination of skills and drive to make Screenmailer take off. I survived the startup program in Chile as a one man team, but it felt like quite a meaningless achievement.

Soul-searching in Thailand
After more than a year in South America I figured that I might as well make use of my new nomad lifestyle. A big customer has reached out to me and wanted to buy access to a while-label version of the Screenmailer and that wasn’t such a bad opportunity. It would require some development and I figured that a coding get-away to Thailand would be a good way to get back on my feet. So I took the order and got on a plane.

Hammocks on paradise beaches turned out to be quite enjoyable spots for soul-searching. I started to accept that my dreams for Screenmailer was never going to happen and that felt OK. I was still a pretty good product builder and I told myself that my time was better spent on other things.

Not a bad spot for reflection

During my adventure I had stayed in close contact with my co-founders at AutoUncle and TeamEffect and helped out when I could. My conversations with them were uplifting, but also served as recurring reminders that I had been lonely for too long. So much of my joy as an entrepreneur came from leading and working with other people.

That was the moment I decided to move back to Denmark. In-between programming, soul-searching in hammocks and demanding Muay Thai practice I had found my calling.

I wasn’t regretful about my Screenmailer adventure, but I realised that it was not true to who I was deep down. What I missed was serving others by being a great leader and growing people. I decided that going forward I would place myself wherever I could make the biggest difference as a leader, starting out by going back to the two companies that I loved, TeamEffect and AutoUncle.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

My journey taught me that winning as an entrepreneur is all about the people (well, together with some amount of timing, market, location and business model). People is key and impact on people became the guiding compass for me going forward.

I had given Screenmailer everything I could. I’d sold all my possessions, travelled the world, consulted with experts and worked endless nights, but the company had failed as a business and that was OK.

5 years later (and a better alternative to Screenmailer)
I now absolutely love what I do. TeamEffect and AutoUncle are both doing well and I am incredibly grateful in my current role as COO at AutoUncle. The past years I continued to keep Screenmailer running as sort of a charity project, but I feel that now is the right time for the service to shut down.

This is good news for you as well! Screenmailer was part of leading the development of a new category of communication apps and now there are other really good options out there.

My favourite Screenmailer alternative is Loom. They don’t pay me for that recommendation and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

On a closing note, a special thank you goes out to the people that have supported Screenmailer as customers throughout time. Your contributions have helped people communicate effectively via video world-wide and have made a difference for thousands of teachers, doctors, designers and many others.

Thank you.

Jonas Bruun Nielsen
Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn

Co-founder of AutoUncle and TeamEffect, Creator of Screenmailer. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonasbylov/