When media wants your product more than your customer — a story how we failed

It is not that long time ago when I started to build mobile applications. I saw a lot of opportunities in real world where I could use my knowledge in building apps to make the world a better place. Of course, I was naive.

Sad truth about the expectations and reality while building startups

I was thinking a lot if I should publish my story about our (Monika Mitrikova, Jakub Tutko, Tomas Matula, Jan Mjartan and me) first big project and the sad ending of it. I believe this story might help other initiative people to prevent those same problems to happen.

Typical broadcast speakers we use in our villages

Our project was called My Hometown and it was a communication tool for mayors of the villages or cities and their citizens. In Slovakia- the country where I am from and in Czechia- the country where I spent my last 6 years we still use the broadcast speakers placed all around the villages to announce any kind of information to the citizens. I personally think it’s not a bad idea at all, the small communities far away from bigger towns, should stick together and help each other.

However, the major drawback of this solution is that you have to be always physically in the village in order to hear the news. Secondly, you can hear but you cannot respond and lastly the only way to report problems in your neighborhood is to make an appointment to mayor and talk to him or her.

A broken bench — typical use case for example what to report through our app

I thought I have a solution for all of these problems and not only for a single village but for all of them throughout Slovak and Czech republic. Just imagine, all the news you receive on your smartphone or tablet, the important ones with notifications too. All the news are allowed to be commented, voted or liked. The problems you see on the streets are easily recorded on your device using pictures and location tags which are later send to a responsible person. Does it solve the problem? The answer is: kind of.

The way how we promoted our service in the new village

It’s not about pricing if you offer it for free. It’s not about inability to use it if you provide “how to” videos and also you take your time and go to every mayor and explain everything. It’s not about citizens who are against it if all you hear is “please come to our village as well”. So where is the problem?

The main reason why we failed was that the mayors or their assistants would have to talk to their citizens in more frequent way than they do now. Are you asking yourself the same question as I was? Isn’t it their job? Shouldn’t they listen to their citizens in the first place? In that moment I felt angry and disappointed.

The video describing our mobile application (in Slovak)

After some time I spent thinking what did I wrong and what should I get from this I finally got it: The customer wasn’t a citizen in the first place, it was a mayor whom I didn’t solve his problem, I made it bigger. With my service he or she would have to keep tracking responses from the citizens, keep them updated about everything what’s happening and solve all the reports they have sent.

But why media was interested so much in this project? Everybody wanted to get a piece of this “we do it for our citizens” project. Not only companies wanted to give us money to display their logo next to us but also TV’s, radio stations, websites and newspapers wanted to “care” about what we do as well (just to be clear some of them really helped us). If we would make a briliant solution how to collect the taxes more effectively instead I don’t think somebody would care that much.

One of the TV shows we were featured in

So what’s the end of this? Find out who is your target customer (it is not always somebody you are convinced it is), hear out it’s problems (usually you won’t hear them all at once) and don’t go too far away from this person / a group of people because at the end it is their feedback which matters!

For more of my projects visit https://vladimirelias.com/