At Startup Weekends and pitches, some ideas keep coming around, like:
- social car/taxi sharing
- an emergency call button app on your phone for medical help / volunteers to aid old people
- something to schedule sports games with your friends.
Despite competent execution they rarely go mainstream. Why?
Here’s an example of a social sports scheduling app that @TomGrp kindly sent to me.
I wish Tom and his team all the best. I hope his app takes off and I apologize that I can’t advise on this because I never have understood why anyone would want to kick a piece of rubber around a field for 90 minutes. Let alone pay large amounts of money to professionals to do it.
It’s not just football. I don’t really get fisting or fly-fishing either.
I would be interested if anyone out there can explain in 140 characters (or less) why football matters so much to some people. The passion that motivates them might also explain why start-up teams seem so keen to tackle the same ideas again and again, even when users don’t seem to want them.
For example: I’ve seen several different spins on the idea of bringing people with a shared sports interest together, including:
- a very basic SMS-based app (allows people with low-end phones in the developing world who play street soccer can get involved and makes monetization easy through premium rate messages)
- effortlessly build a community for your team/track all your stats in one place kind of thingy (often combined with e-commerce to sell the stuff around the sport)
- generic solutions to the ‘meetup’ problem (meetup.com seems to have this nailed, though it is too expensive for much of Asia and isn’t adapted to local currencies and languages)
Of all these, only the last seems to work. I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts as to why that might be.
At JFDI.Asia, we don’t try to pick winners. We don’t claim to have a crystal ball that gives us special powers to identify ideas that will become the next Instagram. Instead we try to pick teams that have a mix of skills we recognize as common to successful entrepreneurs and ideas that seem to address a problem worth solving. Then we look for a fit between the team and the idea, the team and JFDI.Asia and the idea and JFDI.Asia. Meng’s prototype ‘FrogScore’ aims to formalize all that graphically on one page.
Eventually we want to link the ‘FrogScore’ to a bank of startup patterns that can help teams learn when one of those patterns flags up a warning that their particular team-idea combination is unlikely to fly. It’s not that we are trying to spot ‘losers’ instead of ‘winners’ but rather that we want to help teams looking for buried treasure where someone else has already dug and found nothing to know that fact.
Which should not discourage anyone from drilling in the desert because sometimes people do find oil. The trick is to do it systematically and to learn from what doesn’t work. That’s the theory behind Lean Startup and I think the history of technology tends to support it.
Take the railway locomotive. Today, every kid can draw a ‘choo choo train’, even if most have never ridden in one. That’s partly thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine and partly because the generic shape of a thing with several wheels and a funnel up the front has taken root in all our minds.
It seems obvious now what a steam locomotive should look like but there was a surprisingly long time when that was not obvious at all. Steam trains evolved and the same is probably true with every technology. Often, new language must be invented before we have the cognitive tools to understand what’s going on and it takes time for Design to catch up too. The first railway trains looked like a string of small horse-drawn carriages, until someone realized that you could have long carriages seating 50 or 100 people, as we do today.
That time lag might answer the ‘Why Now’ question I posed in the title of this post.
I remember a friend asking me ‘Have you been Facebooked yet?’ and then trying to describe the experience to me. I guess that must have been 2006, when FB opened up beyond university campuses. Today, it seems obvious how a social network should work but back in the day, all of seven years ago, it wasn’t. We didn’t have the language of ‘likes’ or ‘friends’ and the phrase ‘social graph’ wasn’t popularized until 2008. Until we evolved language like that we couldn’t begin to make sense of why some teams succeeded with some social ideas while others never took off.
So despite the fact that I don’t get football and can’t give any useful feedback on apps related to it, I wish everyone pursuing social sports meet-up ideas all the best. Who knows, their time may yet come.