This picture was taken of me and my daughter Sydney in 2001, the summer after we moved to Denver from Washington, DC. Is it just me, or do I actually look older then than I do now?
You’ll hear me talking and read a lot from me about the difference between a need and a demand. I learned this difference the hard way with one of my first dotcoms, TimeToParent, which I launched in 2002, shortly after moving to Denver with my family. The following is an enhanced excerpt from my book, The Web Startup Roadmap.
Being in a new city with a very young child (Sydney was only 2 then) and starting a company is hard on a marriage. Every business is a family business because the whole family is involved whether they work directly for the company or not. The long hours and stress took its toll, and my wife and I filed for divorce in 2003.
During the process of getting divorced, I began to realize how hard it would be to coordinate all the activities involved with parenting. How would we keep track of the schedule? How would we coordinate pick-ups and drop-offs? Who do we call in case of an emergency? How can we avoid talking on the phone as much as possible? I thought to myself, “I’ve got it! I’ll build a website to automate the process of parenting after divorce!” And thus, TimeToParent was born.
The site was designed mainly for single parents to communicate about their children and collaborate with their ex-spouses. This was years before Twitter, but I limited the input fields to 200 characters to cut down on the trash talk. I also provided lots of select lists with canned questions and responses to reduce the non-task oriented communication as much as possible.
My thought was that if I could provide a platform for separated or divorced parents to communicate, maybe I could take some of the emotion out of their interactions to help them get along better and the children would benefit as a result.
With my idea in hand and before writing a line of code, I struck out to do some market research. I went to half a dozen networking events to pitch my idea and get feedback. After speaking with dozens of people, both men and women, the overwhelming conclusion was that TimeToParent was a fantastic idea…a service that was really needed.
During my market research, I made note of who was divorced with children so I could contact them after the site was live and ask them to beta test the site for me. After a couple of months in development, I launched the website and contacted the beta users. Several of them signed up, most did not.
That’s when I learned the difference between a need and a demand. When the users (mostly women) canceled the service (usually after two months) I asked them why. The most common response was, “My ex-husband won’t use it simply because I asked him to.”
It turned out that people would rather argue over the phone than use a system to help prevent it. After 18 months and fewer than 100 subscribers, I killed the site. The concept was sound, but the model didn’t work. There was a need, but no demand.
Hopefully you’ll learn this lesson from me and you won’t waste months or years of your life trying to sell a product or service that’s badly needed, but that no one wants to buy. You may see a need, but be sure to fill a demand.