I come across dozens of startups every month. You never know when you might meet the next Uber. That said, there are so many clunkers out there — new ventures who are trying to solve small problems or who lack viable business models. Below are summaries of actual new startup companies with seemingly iffy futures, starting with an app that uses algorithms to help people track their foosball games. You can’t make this stuff up. The summaries are not my own– they are directly from the companies in question.
I’ve changed the names of these companies to not publicly bash anyone. The purpose of this post is not to excoriate some gutsy entrepreneurs who have big dreams. It’s simply to share a perspective on some very common problems with new ventures. To be blunt, some of these are examples of what not to do with digital products.
The overly narrow market segment problem
Example: “Foozy.” Foozy is a digital service that tracks foosball results, skill rankings, and close match ups for companies that take foosball too seriously. Quantify your progress over time. Settle the debate of who’s the best in the office.
Comment: This app might help the 24 people in North America who actually care. It’s one thing to have a focused business that deeply serves a market niche; it’s something else entirely to serve a small market and only provide marginal value.
The “does anyone actually have this problem?” problem
Example: “Cafe Work.” This is a community of people sharing information about seating, wifi, power outlets at local cafés. It helps people find spots to be productive. Perfect for freelancers, entrepreneurs and creatives looking to be productive.
Comment: Is it that hard for people to find a place to be productive? There are over 11,500 Starbucks in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. And thousands of other coffee houses with decent wifi, fine seating and tasty lattes.
The single feature, tied to a single platform problem
Example: “FLeads.” The company is an online platform that synchronizes Facebook Lead Ads into any CRM, autoresponder or email software. This allows users to reach out to new leads automatically and in real-time, while benefiting from Facebook’s new two-click opt-in feature.
Comment: Other companies are tackling this kind of issue as part of a broader feature set. And won’t Facebook eventually develop it themselves?
The undifferentiated product and late to the party problem
Example: “HireNow.” With this service you can hire anyone from your locality or a remote place to get your daily chores done. If you are looking for some extra bucks or even full-time employment, get started on HireNow.
Comment: what do they offer that Task Rabbit, Handy and dozens of other on-demand platforms don’t have? Earlier this year cleaning services company Homejoy shut its doors after three years in business, after revenue challenges and struggles in raising sufficient funding. Task Rabbit and Handy seem to be running away with the market. It seems too late for another player.
The “I have this problem so everyone else must have it too” problem
Example: “Double Up.” This app knows the fun of dating doesn’t have to end when you’re in a relationship. We make it easy to find other couples with similar interests and help plan fun nights out.
Comment: Ok, let me get this right. Two people who are dating are going to use an app to meet random new couples. Hmm. And the business model is what exactly?
A Final Thought
To sum it up, there are some very smart people who start their companies with narrow use cases and then successfully pivot into a broader application or market. It’s possible that some of the ones above could as well. For their sake, I certainly hope so.