The below blog post is originally posted under the title of Pitfalls of Solving the Personal Problem over on the SwarmSports blog.
The main idea behind most startups is that they are solving problems. Most problems are not even recognized as an issue at all, until the startup brings it to the attention of the world and investors. One of the most common pitfalls a startup can run into, and also the reason I’m writing this, is the solving of the Personal Problem which is not a Global Problem.
Here goes my story of SwarmSports (and ViralRank) and why it failed. The main reason was that the entire time we, my co-founder at the time who declared this to be a problem, solved a non-issue. We were set to solve this glut of sports sites news, but there really was no problem to be solved! It was more of a Personal Problem that really was an annoyance at best. It was your true skewing of reality that made a Personal Problem seem like a Global Problem.
Early on as we let others know of our site, there should have been warning flags that told us that we were just solving a Personal Problem. In all of our feedback from people who saw the site, the main thing that was repeated over and over was the lack of design. Also mentioned was that the site seemed to be in another era of the internet in general. Where as the problem that was solved may have been something that was a real issue in say circa 2006, it was no longer looked upon as a real Global Problem.
Instead of taking stock in the feedback, we kept pushing ahead with solving this so called problem. We put more effort into design aesthetics as best as we could. Neither one of us was a designer by any means, and we both felt the product wasn’t visually appealing. None of this should have been something we worried about. There still was absolutely no interest in the product or the Personal Problem we were solving and mandating that it was a Global Problem.
While we both had a feeling that SwarmSports was turning into a big failure, instead of giving up the project entirely, we started to feel that maybe the product called ViralRank had some worth since it was more of analytical product that might have a worthwhile place in other industries besides sports. This new currency, as my co-founder had called it, was just like how Klout sprung up and declared a number that they calculated was the way to rank people’s social worth.
Wrong again! I left the promotional efforts of SwarmSports in the hands of at the time my co-founder to evangelize. The product was about as good as it was going to get, and we needed user validation or adoption. We also were running out of runway to make a product that would attract some sort of user adoption. During the last month or so of leaving the SwarmSports product in his hands to promote, I worked on the ViralRank Dashboard as our possible winning formula.
The runway for both my co-founder and I came to a screeching halt. We both had to get regular day jobs, and that pretty much closed down the product that was still evolving. My co-founder at the time decided he didn’t want to put any further effort into it, and I took over both products as the sole founder. This was mutually agreed upon, and there was a peaceful end to the partnership.
Where did this all go wrong?
Basically from the get go!
Developing a fix for a Personal Problem that isn’t a Global Problem was the main issue that killed this project from ever becoming something everyone needed to use.
The promotional efforts failing to garner any user adoption should have stopped us from developing the product any further. We should have examined what was not working promotion wise instead of spending the time to develop the product further.
Lastly, expecting to sell the world on a currency (ViralRank) on a product that failed, and also using a term that was already used once and failed, was just another nail in the coffin of the entire project.
Could this product (SwarmSports or ViralRank) have ever been successful?
Possibly if we had acknowledged that we were solving a Personal Problem and not a Global One. We should have tried to work on customer adoption sooner vs later in the game. We should have done all that as well as evangelize the product in a better way than we did.
While we had a failed product, and we worked on a Personal Problem and not a Global One, the product could have survived to evolve further if things were handled differently. Or then again, maybe we solved one person’s Personal Problem and that is something cool that we did at the end of the day.
I’m very disappointed at how the startup went, but at the same time, I believe I gave it the best possible effort to make it succeed. Even after my co-founder left, I tried a few things as a one man startup to get some sort of user adoption. Even the last stab in the dark at some sort of user adoption with custom page’s turned into a complete failed effort. This has said to me that no one wants the product, nor do they find the product useful at all.
Lesson Learned: Solve the Global Problem, and leave your Personal Problems for your own personal time to solve. Involving or mixing the perception that there is a problem (it’s personal!) with some faded reality of it being a problem (real global issue!) will kill your startup before it even gets out of the gate.