Five common pitches at Startup Weekend

At Startup Weekend events, there are a few ideas that seem to pop up with alarming frequency. For the purposes of the weekend itself, it doesn’t matter how saturated the market is, or whether the exact same product has been built already. Startup Weekend is about the experience of the weekend.

For those, however, that really are trying to establish a new product/service/business, you might want to think a little harder before pitching any of the following five ideas:

The Taxi App

I’ve seen this pitched at just about every Startup Weekend I’ve been to (over a dozen) as well as just about every other pitch based event. Yes, in some countries and cities, booking a taxi can be a pain, and yes, building an app that enables you to book a taxi has some value. It’s been done. Many times. It’s just an app, and you’re going to have a problem making money with it.

The reality is, that in most places where this is a problem, it’s a pain for the passengers and a nice-to-have type problem for the taxi companies, who have bigger problems to worry about, typically how to most efficiently use their fleet of vehicles to make the most money.

I think there’s space for disruption in the Taxi market, but I don’t think it’s in passenger booking apps, and if you don’t understand the inner workings of running a transportation based business, it’s going to be much tougher than you imagine.

The Food App

Whether it’s recommendations, photography, menus, recipes, or diet communities, about 80% of the events I’ve been present at have had a food related pitch. And why not? It’s a huge factor of our daily lives.

Few companies have successfully started and gained traction in the food related markets. This should give you an idea of how tough this market is, and that’s before you start to think about a revenue stream that doesn’t involve advertising.

The one area where I can’t wait for innovation is restaurant website menus. There’s a couple of companies providing platforms for this, but it’s hard to see if they’re making traction. The hardest part is not the technology, it’s the sales/marketing to the restaurants - very labour intensive.

The Ride Sharing App

Bazillions of drivers, all heading in the same direction, and we could benefit each other and the environment by combining our rides. I get it. I really do. Add to that those who don’t drive and want to hitch a ride too. It’s all good.

This product comes down to communication, convenience, trust and personal space. Don’t underestimate the scale and complexity of these issues. Oh and revenue stream? Everyone seems to focus on a % of the transaction, which means that a) you need your users to make/receive payments in a way that could cause them tax issues and b) you need to build/implement a payment service, which is no small thing.

I’ve seen this at various events and so far, only one of the teams has managed to launch a real service. Too early to tell if they will survive, but they did manage to figure out a niche revenue stream, which probably puts them in a much stronger position that the rest.

Oh, and until you can instantly convince women to use it, you’re probably not onto a winner.

The Organise A Group Of Friends App

Social events for small groups are, apparently, really hard to organise. Actually, I’ve had experience with this, sometimes it’s like trying to herd cats. Lazy and unmotivated cats at that. Surely there’s space for an app to solve this?

No. Well, yes, possibly, but in my opinion it all comes down to the root cause of the problem, and that’s people and culture. It’s not the organising of the event itself that’s the problem, it’s the act of a large group trying to please everybody and inevitably failing that makes such tasks tiresome. Even with the most spectacularly well thought out, democratic work flow app, without an agreement between users that sometimes life isn’t fair, this is always going to be a problem.

Oh, let’s not forget, where’s the money? The competition (Facebook, email, phone etc) is free and already ubiquitous.

The Dating App

Every. Single. Time. There’s a reason that this market is dominated by just a few massive players. It’s seriously hard. Most of my comments regarding the Ride Sharing app also apply here, although I would add that this is one area where I think there’s room for something new an exciting. I just wish I knew what it was.

And with all that said - it’s worth remembering that Google was not the first search engine, the iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone and Apple has done well at creating markets from nothing, so don’t let my comments put you off. If you think you can do better - go right ahead and hustle your way into domination.

Follow me on Twitter for more insights: @clogish

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