ImageLaunched:December 2009

Shut Down: Still live (but no longer being worked on)

Founder: Mark Hendrickson

Funding: seed funding (locally sourced)

Plancast is a social events discovery network that helps people find upcoming events that their friends are going to. Founder Mark Hendrickson has written an insightful post-mortem on why Plancast didn’t work out. Lack of traction was cited as the main reason, but he also writes about some of the underlying reasons behind this.

Short summary below:

  • Sharing frequency – events are really only suitable for occasional sharing and people don’t make (or share) events all that often.
  • Consumption frequency – the majority of people generally don’t proactively seek out new events, leaving the service to a minority of proactive users
  • Tendency to procrastinate – most people resist making advanced commitments on events
  • Incentives to share – here Mark has an interesting take on why people share anything on social networks. He believes it is mostly to do with vanity and narcissism, whereby people share content so others will think better of them. Events generally don’t lend themselves well to fulfilling this motive so the incentives to share are low for the vast majority.
  • Selectivity and privacy concerns – many events are small and private in nature and extend only to personal friends. Therefore, they’re not suitable for public broadcast on Plancast.
  • Importance of an invitation – most people will respond better to a personal invitation rather than a notification about an upcoming event a friend is attending
  • Content lifespan – event plans are not “evergreen” and the content is more or less worthless after the event has come and gone
  • Geographic limitations –  events are also place-related, which has its own issues, e.g. when a new user can’t find anyone else living in the same area and quits.

I pretty much agree with everything Mark said. Some additional thoughts:

  • Plancast is a specific social network for something most people just don’t need all that often and which a more general social network (such as Facebook) would probably suffice. While Facebook’s events app is not necessarily an event discovery service and it’s certainly not perfect, I doubt that the majority of people would sign up to a specialised service just for this feature.
  • I think a cooler idea would have been to layer the social network over an events search engine. Rather than just relying on user submissions, the search engine looks for event listings from all around the user’s area (or any location) and lists them on the site along with attendees, likes, recommendations, etc from the social network part.

Post-Mortem for 10 Products

Dana Levine has written an insightful post-mortem of ten products that he has built (and ultimately failed). Below is a quick summary of the products he built and why they failed:

  1. Tweedledo (web to-do list) – no traction
  2. InstantQ (queue management for restaurants) – no customers
  3. InstantQ V2 (restaurant marketing platform) – low customer (i.e. restaurants) willingness to pay
  4. Rentize (local rental marketplace) – gave up after deciding that the idea wouldn’t work very well and that the commissions would be low
  5. Wish List (search for best prices on internet) – no traction and co-founder difficulties
  6. SimplyHours (office hours scheduler) – co-founder left to work on something else
  7. SpeakerGram (marketplace for conference organisers and speakers) – market wasn’t big enough
  8. About/Team/Press (app to manage about, team and press pages) – co-founder left to work on something else

The last two were consulting projects, both of which didn’t launch.

Some of my thoughts:

  • Most of the products are pretty standard tech startup ideas (e.g. a to-do list, marketplaces for X and Y, etc)
  • None of them actually address a real pain point – they are all simply “nice to have” products, but in no way essential
  • Startups focusing on local small businesses are notoriously difficult and are hardly ever successful. Despite this, they are somehow always seductive to tech entrepreneurs (e.g. InstantQ, V2 and Rentize)
  • Alot of these products would need to rely on network effects to grow large
  • This list implies an approach to startups that goes along the lines of – acquire tech skills, find some general problem that you don’t necessarily have, try to solve it with a web app and then attempt to monetize it. This seems completely backwards. It would probably work better to start from the opposite side – be involved in a field outside of web technology, understand the problems, needs and wants of the people in the field, then learn tech skills to help them solve these problems.