Share your umbrella with strangers. Are you sold?

Why a startup with an unique vision and functioning product might not succeed in the real world

Meet Umbrella HERE — it’s a gadget you put on the top of your umbrella that lights up in the rain to signal to others they can join you under the umbrella. And when it’s not raining, it turns red when it’s hot and blue when it’s cold.

You know, I give them points just for going out there and making something. But this is a pretty poorly thought-out idea.

I don’t know about you, but if it’s pouring, my first thought isn’t: let me share my umbrella with a stranger so that half my body gets wet.

But perhaps equally unfortunate and compelling is — how is the average layman supposed to know that that light means?

I know because I went on product hunt and read about it. Yesterday if I stepped out onto the street and saw someone with a lit up umbrella I’d probably think to myself: “Well isn’t that unique, it’s probably for them to see better at night.” And not — “Look! A rain taxi.”

To me, this is a prime example of people trying to come up with “cool and new” products that aren’t actually useful, because startups are “in” right now. There is so much noise on the internet that it’s hard to compete in any business. So people, in the wake of the Silicon Valley boom, try and find the most novel and interesting idea to capitalize on.

But people forget that simply making something cool isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter how “awesome” or “different” something is, unless you can make profit off of it. As a business person, one needs to ask: would someone buy this?

These are the hard questions any would-be entrepreneurs should ask themselves before they go about creating products. And each one of these begs even more questions that would have stopped me from going forward with Umbrella HERE.

1. What is the product exactly?

Well, it’s a ring you put on top of your umbrella that lights up.

Would this ring fit on all umbrellas types? Would I, as an user, forget to put this on when I leave the door? How big and heavy is the ring — would I be willing to carry it around in my purse, pocket, or book bag?

2. What is the point of this device?

The main goal is for it to alert an umbrella-less passerby that you’re willing to share your umbrella. It also alerts you of changes in the weather and if you forget your umbrella.

Do I really need it to change colors to alert me of the temperature? Anything higher than 80 degrees to me is hot, but don’t know if that rings true for people in other parts of the world. So at what points does this thing change colors exactly? Is it going to be blue all winter?

I know of another great device that tells me whether it’s hot or cold. Yes, the thermostat, but also my body.

“Honey, is it hot or cold right now?”

“Babe, the Umbrella HERE is blue so it’s probably cold”

I will say that the feature where it reminds you to get your umbrella when you forget is a worthwhile value proposition to me. But if that’s the biggest sell, then I might as well use one of these tracking devices.

Let’s address the elephant in the room — “join the movement” they urge their customers in the video. As much as I would love to meet new people in this interesting way, and possibly even follow up with them afterwards, this is not a very logical expectation.

I can’t say for sure because I haven’t done any market research, but I wager that if I ask a varied sample of people I know or even don’t know, the answers to these questions can’t be promising:

Who would I let under my umbrella? Can I vet who gets to — say only attractive young males that wear nice clothes and smell good?

How exactly do I connect with them afterwards via the Umbrella HERE platform? So I enter the date and location in which we shared a walk under my umbrella. Don’t they have to be on the site and actively looking to find me too in order for this to work?

Seems as plausible and useful as the “Missed Connections” portion of craigslist. Which admittedly, has some pretty entertaining if not successful stories.

3. Who is my target market?

I doubt children will be using this anytime soon — they’re a tad too short for sharing with the average stranger.

And an older crowd might not take too kindly to this idea. Thus, millennials, or perhaps people between the ages of 18–40 would be my assumption as to who their target market is.

Even if the younger side of their target market would be more receptive to the idea, I doubt they would want to buy this product, especially with a price tag of $28.

Check out these 40 things I could potentially buy for 99 cents each that would be more useful or give me more utility than Umbrella HERE.

And for girls, putting one of things on might just be inviting unwelcome visitors to get too close in their personal space.

4. Who am I competing with?

Well, no one really. There really isn’t another product like this that I’ve heard of — but if there are similar products, there aren’t many.

No direct competition isn’t exactly a good thing though. Sometimes there’s a reason people aren’t in a space.

This might be difficult to figure out without going down the path just a little, but some due diligence and research will probably yield a lot of relevant data, qualitative or quantitative, that reveal whether this is a worthy venture to continue pursuing.

Here is the promo video:

Suggestions I have?

If I were to go forward with trying to roll this out and promote it, which I don’t necessarily recommend, here is what I would suggest:

→ Get the product into a movie/TV show to make it more visible.
→ Use a voiceover in the promo video that doesn’t sound like a PBS kids cartoon character.
→ Add additional features that might make it a worthwhile purchase.
→ Better advertise and show how it integrates with your phone or desktop web application.
→ Create a smaller, less bulky ring so it’s more portable.

Sometimes, especially on kickstarter, it’s all about crafting a good story. Right now, there really isn’t anything or anyone to get behind and support in the Umbrella HERE story.

I get the social vision they have, but when it comes down to how well such a dream translates in the real world, it just doesn’t.

The website:

And if do meet an amazing new person because I offer to share my umbrella with them, it will be by organic and serendipitous exchange.

Because how cute would this be:

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Ariel Kao’s story.