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Ask HN: I am shutting down. And starting up, again? What do you think?
18 points by mittermayr on Sept 23, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
Hey guys, I've been around enough for quite some time to see people excited about building new things and then some shutting the very same business down a year or two later. It's just a thing that happens and is most likely a smart call to make in most of these cases.

Today, I made the decision to shut down my business. Something I've worked on for over 2 years right after quitting an insanely well paid job at Microsoft. I am running my bank accounts dry (there's something left, no worries) and did not succeed in pushing my revolution enough.

I am starting a new project called urbanvisitor.com and I wanted to see what you guys think beforehand. Opinions are always to be treated with caution, but the last time, I was the only one who was 100% sure I'll succeed, so that didn't work out well.

So quickly: I want to build a real-time scheduling/meeting slots application centered around the idea of meeting new contacts (professionally, friendly) anywhere you go. I travel a LOT and always try hard to meet locals. Anyone I met turned out to be the absolute best experience I could have had in a particular city (I've always kept it professional, so that helps).

I want to have an ARRIVALS and DEPARTURES section for every large city in the world. As a local, you can scan the list and suggest for anyone on it to meet you. As a traveler, you can allot a number of slots (say 5 slots each 1 hour on Tuesday) available, receive meeting inquiries and can accept whoever you want and deny (in a friendly way) those you are not interested in meeting.

What do you think? Help me out guys, I value this community so much and would really benefit from any thought you might have on this. I have the man/technical-power and business experience to execute on it, it's really just a question of whether people need this enough.

Thanks again.

edit: just adding this real quick, the comments below is exactly what i value in hacker news. thanks so much. i hope this place stays like it is now for a long time to come.

This is a very hard kind of service to bootstrap - I'm certain it's been tried before. That's not to say that you can't do it, but it's a high-risk project.

I'd suggest trying to prove the concept without developing any actual technology - something as simple as a shared Google Docs spreadsheet might be enough. That way you reduce the risk of wasting months working on the wrong technology, but you can still get a good idea for if the concept has legs.

well risk is just a matter of money/time invested on this one. I still have a bit left to get this off the ground and i love making working prototypes (12-year long developer) despite my business background. so that should be the easy part and risk-wise, i've had great success with weekend projects in the past - so i am planning to invest a couple of weekends to get the prototype up and then go from there. i have a good network globally, so i am hoping for referrals on that part to get people excited. it's obviously more about the hosts first than the guests, i'd assume.

You didn't listen to what he said...

He said that you should test it while dedicating minimal resources. In this case, a Google Doc spreadsheet could do the trick. It's a great piece of advice.

Why spend multiple weekends working on building a prototype when you could start testing the idea's viability (virtually) straight away?

well, i like the simplicity of a very minimalistic approach. at the same time, i feel it will require a certain presentation to get enough people to sign up. not breaking a sweat with the developing here, this one is more about bringing on the right people. so i'll be investing more time on refining the message and pushing it out than developing the site. but i guess a google docs is just too much of a gamble to risk my first set of contacts to the feedback of 'google docs? seriously?' -- of course it's the easiest way to test the idea. i'm not talking pay a developer two grand to build this and we'll take a look afterwards. i'm taking very simple (hopefully not another bootstrap, but maybe) implementation with a database hookup and basic design. i was thinking a facebook page could help as well to test the idea, but again, too risky to burn contacts. no? curious to hear a counter statement here... thanks!

Ugh. I am getting some serious "when I ask for advice I mean tell me how great this will be" vibes from this thread.

i find it easier to challenge those with negative opinions and prefer when they take time to follow up. this is by far the most helpful stuff here. i take it from your comment history you're a critical person, which i'd definitely value if you added a tiny bit of what you actually thought about the idea. still curious.

Respectfully, I think this is a good example of why some of the best people on HN are getting more reluctant to participate in Ask threads.

Don't do this: Ask -> "Challenge those with negative opinions"

Do this: Ask -> Consider opinions -> ask more smart questions.

simonw and yoseph are exactly right. They are asking you, "How do you know that this is something people want?" Just because it would be valuable to you doesn't mean it's going to be valuable to enough other people to make enough money for you to live on.

You could find out if you have a market or not by throwing together something really small and simple and using that for a while, or you can find out by building a fancy website and doing everything else you're talking about to make your first presentation pretty, and then a year from now find yourself in the same position you're in now except with less money.

How many people need this?

How much are they willing to pay?

How are you going to make money?

How are you going to reach your market? (Can you partner up somehow with AirBnB or other popular travelers' sites?)

just one point: was never planning to build a 'fancy' website first. i just wanted something a bit more polished than a google docs.

everything else, yeah, i see your point and sort of feel bad. i get what you're saying and it makes sense. i do have an attitude that was trained to challenge negative statements because there's just so much 'this sucks!' on the internet and i always want to understand the motivation behind it.

on the statement of testing viability, 100% agree. asking around here whether you guys know if this will succeed or not is the wrong approach. i should have showed up with the google docs here and asked people to use it please and tell me what i missed. agree.

I get why you're reluctant to start with Google Docs. I would be too. Can I propose an in-between solution?

How about a really simple form that just adds people to a mailing list? "I am in [town]. I would like to receive an email when a visitor is in my area. [subscribe]" ... coupled with, "I am visiting [town]. I'd like to meet people. [send]"

If it stays small, you can manage this manually with little effort, and you'll know that it's probably not a service that lots of people are looking for. If it gets big, you won't be able to manage it manually anymore, but now you'll know whether or not people are interested.

that!!! i've seen this before a couple of times on HN and i always signed up. damn. why didn't i think of this right away. f* launchrock :) this is it. i'm serious.

if you have a billion dollar idea or even a million dollar idea, you shouldn't worry about "burning" contacts. You'll have plenty of other people to test with.

If people have enough of a pain point, they'll happily use a google doc. Look at Craigslist. It's god-farking-awful (worse than a google doc), but people still use it to find apartments...

Let me ask you a question. What is the number one thing you need to test to prove the viability of this idea?

wow interesting remark. let me think, i'd say: if i get to find some 20 to 50 people willing to meet incoming folks with a certain flexiblity on meeting topic in different cities, willing to actually act on it, it probably would prove a point. so yeah, i get your statement. a google doc or some facebook arrangement will help to validate this quickly for sure.

i'll think a bit more about the viability question, it's a tricky and essential one ... the google doc + google form thing could be worth a test...

I meant to write a response earlier but I just left the window open. Hopefully you'll still read my personal opinion about your venture and it helps.

I too have the problem you are talking about. I'm very interested in the people in places I visit and taking part is "local activities". I've used resources such as local mailing lists. reddit etc. to find interesting people and places to go to at my travels. I've had major success with that, for example I had the pleasure of going on a huge bike ride with someone from the NYC Reddit mailing list from Central Park to Kony island. I had a 12 hour connection and I don't think I could have spent those 12 hours better (I also visited relatives, so my schedule was super tight). This is still one of my best travel experiences.

I hope by now I've established I'm a perfect audience for your startup. I would love to have a few meetings with local startup people at places like Berlin for example. But I would feel VERY bad about the experience if I needed to pay money for it. I would love to reciprocate by giving someone a place to stay in Israel, paying for a drink or lunch (or both) or tweeting something good as long as I actually enjoyed it. But paying for it with cash upfront would make me feel like this isn't a genuine human experience and interaction, but more like bought time.

I'm not saying that is something everyone feels, it might just be me, but all I can offer you is my personal opinions and experiences.

thanks so much. i am still glued to this thread, i soak all the comments in and it greatly helps shape the idea. i am working on it right now and hopefully can launch something soon. of course, i will make sure it's a free experience for anyone who is not using it professionally

It would be critical to ensure that people meeting share the same goal in the encounter. The goal of the meeting should be explicit. One way to do that would be to target a very specific demographic which might be likely to use such a service in a gratifying manner. This would have the benefit of helping you market to your target audience, if you can make the case that it solves their specific problem.

I like the comment. So far, I know for a fact that entrepreneurs love traveling and meeting people, so that definitely is a group I am going to cater to. Additionally, there's a layer of folks who just want to get showed around town by a local, possibly even paying that person dinner or whatever - which is a bit of a different scenario. So I am still trying to figure out which one I should be focusing on first. The "same goal" topic is crucial, I am currently wrapping my head around a solid haves/wants type of profile that is as little typing as possible and a lot of pulling data from other networks so that you'll immediately get an idea of the other person's social profile. Plus, your one-line meeting reason.

So, yeah, thanks. I really appreciate help at this point. Solid advice!

I do like the idea. I travelled a lot in the past but never made an effort to reach out to interesting people, so when planning future trips, I'm gonna make an effort to connect with local startup scenes.

I think for this to work you have to really define your community. Exclusivity will help, something like asmallworld.com (an invite-only social network).

Off the top of my head, I can think of two groups who'd use something like this:

1) people like us, ie entrepreneurs, and others in the startup world (investors and so on).

2) partyers, who want to find the cool places that aren't yet in the tourist guidebooks.

I think both groups would like some exclusivity. I mean, in any local startup scene, the most interesting people are oversubscribed - all the founders of no-traction startups want to grab coffee with the guy who just raised a $10 mil Series B.

When the $10 mil CEO travels to a new place, he'd probably like to grab coffee with founders at a similar level to talk shop. But those guys don't necessarily know who he is or why he's worth talking to.

If you can get people to say "hey, this person messaged me on urbanvisitor.com, he must be worth meeting" - then you'd have a decent business.

i really, really like your comment. it reflects exactly what i was hoping for someone else to bring up. i agree on the two groups and i agree on the 'oversubscribed people' issue. i actually love the term. i truly believe that most services fail to deliver on this and end up having lots of hookers use it with fake profiles, or joe the weird power networking guy who sells nothing but his life consultancy work to you and keeps requesting meetings... so fully agree. that's crucial to nail. thanks isaac.

Yeah, it seems a lot of social sites don't grasp some of the underlying dynamics of how social networks actually work in the real world. If you can work out those dynamics, you'll have a hit.

Despite people thinking he's an awkward nerd who got lucky, Mark Zuckerberg is actually very good at this.

You need to verify that you're solving a need that people have, and would pay to solve. Not sure that you've done that here.

Highly recommended:



thanks for the advice. i know the lean movement very well and I am not a very religious person per se. but i do value your thought on whether that's something people need. this is what I am starting right now, i am sourcing any feedback i can get (and not only here). there's always people who would not use such a service for sure - but I want to know why, and for those who want something like that, i'd be really curious to hear what they imagine it like.

i'm a massive fan of iteration, so that's the easy part, just want to make sure i'll scout the field for qualitative input a bit right now. i value your guys' opinion a lot, so this is why i am starting out here. thanks again.

As a counterpoint to some of the views already expressed, I would happily pay for this. I'm planning to take my freelance/consulting business full time starting January, and have become hyper-aware of the importance of my personal network and meeting new people (not even for business opportunities, just to understand a wider cross-section of people in general). I'm also planning to travel a lot and work remotely--in other words, what you are proposing sounds ideally suited to me.

I already signed up for your list, feel free to shoot me an email if you want to know more (its in my profile).

as soon as we have pro accounts, you'll be getting one for free. thanks again, i really appreciate early help and always try hard to return the favor.

thanks dave, is http://blackchair.net what you're taking full-time?

That's awesome Roman (it's Roman, right?), I'm looking forward to it! And yes, Black Chair is going to be my full-time gig, although the website is a major work in progress right now :)

A speaker at a Founders Institute event, his name escapes me, spoke about his experience starting this very business. The problem he encountered was that at events, or any social gathering, there was typically a small percentage of people in attendance, call them the stars, that everyone else wanted to meet. But the stars only wanted to meet other stars, meaning the demand is not evenly distributed across would-be users. So, if you are to go ahead with it, I suggest you consider how to overcome this issue.

that is part of the core problems i wrote down. imagine paul graham is in new york for a day and decides to meet some people in 30 min slots on a thursday afternoon. everyone's gonna request a meeting. but it's his call to move requests into the actual booked slots. the person arriving in a city is the one who accepts the meeting based on the incoming requests (filterable by haves/wants). does that make sense? would it be smarter to have locals accept/deny?

This is the thing though, do you really think someone like pg would have difficulty finding A-level people to meet when he travels? The thing about A-level people is they already know other A-level people who can make an intro in that city. And actually now they'd probably just have their assistant do all the work and have a scheduled lined up for when they get there. So your service is going to be for < A-listers, which nobody cares that much to meet.

Looking at the travel market more broadly you have people who travel extensively do it for either business or pleasure, but mostly business. The kind of person that travels for business a lot usually has a packed schedule without much free time. Any free time on their trip that they do have they're probably going to use to take it easy. However "taking it easy" on a business trip is pretty crummy since you often don't know anybody.

Here's an idea - a service that is focused on frequent business travelers. Not the A-listers, but regular professionals that just travel a lot and would probably get along really well with other business professionals that travel a lot.

You can integrate with TripIt as a way to have exclusivity (must go on > threshold trips/miles in timespan) you also then have TripIt information to know where people are going. Automatically the service can see which Trippers are going to be in the same location on the same night (on a trip) and automatically say "Hey, there's 10 trippers in Manhattan on Thursday night, are you interested in an event?" Reply Yes and the service creates the event that people just have to show up to. You as the service will make the reservation, and handle all the logistics of notifying people. People just have to say "yes I'm interested".

just first off, fucking love streak. now my response:

everything you say is true. a-listers won't have problems meeting other a-listers. but that's not what i'm trying to achieve. i do know though that sometimes, a-listers might be curious/open to meet others as well. couple of examples:

lars hinrichs is running hackfwd, germany incubator, definitely a-lister. he's a cool guy who regularly tunes in to random startups/founders and wants to hear what they're working on. two 30 minute slots during a business trip where he can select from 'meeting requests' would probably be interesting to him. that's startup world though.

say you're jimmy fallon. crazy popular. he flies to london and says he wants to meet 3 random writers who can request a meeting with him. promotional opportunity.

or, you, the guy from streak, goes to paris, does not want to be bothered by random 1-person startup folks but rather meet someone who might be a tech guy, but his dad owns a french bakery and invites you to take your girlfriend there and see what they do. probably worth that hour?

just a couple of thoughts on that.

then, for professional travelers, i used to fly a lot for microsoft and i always had time. evenings, or sometimes late afternoons. i knew people in cities i traveled to, but sometimes you're back in chicago for the fourth time and feel like meeting someone you don't know yet but who shares your interest or works in a similar sector, etc.

the frequent flyer thought is very interesting. as long as i get to keep out the networking crazies, that'd be a perfect monetization aspect.

1. I don't think people will pay for that 2. I don't think there will be enough users to decide how to monetize later.

I can speak from my voice only and I won't use such service.

thanks! well, one thing i've learned for sure was that there will be paid accounts right away. one person per city or one meeting per week or something, above it'll be paid, depending on the dynamics of the offers market.

i never thought people would pay for a simple twitter analytics service (i felt it would be the big guys at most), but with fruji.com (side project that made me good money, and keeps going) it's 90% regular people, 10% business paying for these accounts.

what i'd be curious about is, if you're traveling much? say, you go to new york and there's a guy from general assembly willing to show you around the local startups they host? yes/no? i'm really curious!

So this is like serendipitous-travel-networking.

This seems like a small market to me. Even if you got it off the ground it would be difficult to charge for it.

How about removing the travel aspect, and just start a serendipitous-networking service? People sign up with their LinkedIn's and/or Facebooks, and you connect people who would benefit from knowing each other.

This seems like a better idea, but still not a great one. Monetization will likely be difficult.

i wanted to do that first, for conferences. but there were some really good providers out there doing this and i wanted to see if they can get it off the ground for conferences... so i looked into the travel-associated aspect ... but it's really just another tie into your life. meeting is the core transaction, whether you do it at a conference, lunch or in a new city you're traveling to, i feel.

and yes, agree. market is small. very small compared to building another service on top of twitter's api ... people just flock to this stuff... so yeah, true that. 100 million dollar business? not sure ... i just really want this to work for me, for now. i'd use this everytime i go somewhere.

I definitely echo the thoughts in the other comments: is this solving a real problem? I can imagine a traveler wanting this, but the locals? Maybe tour guides could get into this, but the traveler + tour guide combo seems like something you aren't going after.

There is a lot if money in tourism, but I am not sure this is an especially fruitful angle to get at it. It could be a starting point though.

Goal #1: get someone to pay for it!

i agree. with my other projects, i tried the free and the pay from day 1 models and the paid models performed much much better. it's just another more direct form of validation. and those paying will definitely help shape the service.

and the locals will definitely be the harder group to build up. i have a favorite restaurant here in vienna and i love going there as much as i can. i'd be open to take someone flying in there once a week and hear about their life and plans.

it's really a matter of communicating the 'why' for locals. i don't want anyone to make money off meeting people, that's the wrong direction. i'd rather charge for other things (pro members can do more, ask for meetings in certain premium lists or whatever)

Oh, and quick follow up: I am trying to make sure that marketers (and hardcore networkers) are identified as such and that say, a certain Mr. Graham could travel without being attacked by 500 crazies (like us) randomly. He gets to pick who to meet based on certain criteria. Vice versa.

Your ideas have some similarities with a site that was recently pitched on UK's Dragon's Den http://www.eatwithalocal.socialgo.com/ might be some inspiration there

yes yes yes, that! not necessarily focused on food as main scenario, but message-wise, that's the idea.

what was the feedback like, remember?

The pitch wasn't great as the 'dragons' had trouble seeing enough scale to warrant investment. They liked the idea - and their site does have quite a few members when you consider the people running it aren't business or tech savvy. I think it's a good indicator that their is a sizable market out there for this kind of thing.

Deborah Meaden was probably the most qualified investor there for this idea and she anticipated it would be hard to monetize and the budget required to obtain traffic would be substantial based on her experiences with another online membership type business.

To be honest I think they have a decent life style business potential there, they just need more business savvy and tech savvy on their side. If you have a subscription model you know what kind of targets you need to make the business viable, it's just a matter of doing the calculations.

I live in paris.. why on earth would I want to take time out of my day, to go meet some random tourist out of the MILLIONS who come every year?

can i ask what you do for a living? i'm really curious, i assume tech-focused, student or full-time working? would there be any type of person on earth (probably from the tech community) you'd be happy to meet for an hour (and probably pay you lunch) or so when they come to paris for few days? what type of person would that be? totally understand if you are not interested in meeting strange foreigners, you're french after all ... HA :) no please, i'm from austria, i wish I could live in paris and speak french, i'm not kidding. i envy you and everyone else in that city everytime i visit.

Sure, I was a student.. . now i'm a tech-focused entrepreneur. I work on a flexible schedule, usually at nights. Enjoy the day exercising, being with my gf. I can't think of any one in particular i'd like to just meet offhand, but usually when I do have free time to go out, I'd prefer to spend it with friends I know. I'm pretty sure most people here would feel the same..

Check couchsurfing, you can find people eager to meet tourists and show them their city in almost all the big cities in the world.

just adding a little comment myself here: the only thing that worries me a bit is the lack of major services offering this already, there probably is a reason... so far, people suggested:

[mingle: close, but not tied to a certain timing/travel aspect]

[vayable: focused on activities, like gidsy]

[gidsy: focused on activities, like vayable]

[letslunch: very close, focused on lunch]

[eatwithalocal.socialgo.com: close, but focused on lunch]

I like the idea. I imagine it may have some similarities with "vayable/gidsy" those kind of local-travel experiences startups?

yeah, i was always very curious on the local activity type of businesses, but while i wished more individuals would start offering activities, i guess nobody really felt they were up par with what was expected from someone offering local experiences professionally... so it stuck with professional tour guides and such mostly, i'd assume?

but i believe that these local cooking classes in barcelona and such things are going to take over more and more of vacation planning.

For what it's worth, I would pay to use a service like this. Obviously the chicken and egg problem is the tough part here.

thanks! yes, definitely. although i think it'll be a bit harder to get the hosts excited to meet incoming folks. i'll probably start with the entrepreneurial community, they're used to meeting people a lot, as well as couchsurfers.

my main goal is to bring this service to a level where i can use it myself. just chatted with a couple of friends and they said the same thing, make it so that we can use on upcoming trips asap that and anything else is secondary :)

Are you familiar with Let's Lunch? They do something similar.


oh cool, i like that! i was trying to locate something similar but had a hard time producing results through google. that's very helpful thank you!

oh i remember mingle i think... always felt it's like a dating/hookups platform.

basically the professional component of what i want to build, at least from what I can tell by their website. going to try this right away.

What are you shutting down? Twentypeople.com

wow, thanks for looking it up. so, in a nutshell: i hate how recruiters make 5 grand a hire and employers constantly struggle to find talent. so i built a site that focused on being hired/hire through your skill graph. i hate job boards, i hate monster, i hate recruiter fees - guess what, after a while, i had to add a job board, and i offered recruiting services and i made 5k a pop. the site itself produced over 2k active users, but that was it. companies asked me to charge for job board listings, not for my self-recruiting credits.

i just couldn't disrupt an industry that keeps using advertising little entries in long lists and making lots of cash with it. as well as recruiters, like real estate agents, another industry that needs to be redone on the social web better.

i started fruij.com as a side/weekend project and people came in from everywhere, i had no plan, no direction, no marketing, but it kept making me money. people just bought pro accounts without me telling them why it's important to have one. they just flocked to it. so that was a bit of an eye opener.

Why not build on fruji vs starting anew? How long ago did you launch it? What kind of growth could you see if you focused on it?

so fruji is interesting. everytime i shut it down (database issues, twitter api changes, etc.) and turn it back on, people start flocking to it immediately after, and it grows from 10 signups a day to 150 a day quickly. that's awesome. payments are coming in as well, drafting new (more expensive) account types for corporate users looking good and so forth.

but i've had a couple of really popular a-listers sign up, won't name them here, but you all know them. and after i had to tell the 5th over 1M+ follower person that it'll take more than a few days to scan their account (run analysis) based on twitter's api rate limits, it just feels terrible.

i thought i'd just lock out people with accounts over 500k (can you imagine?!), it'd make a lot of things easier.

twitter has been very responsive and i've been able to submit a couple of bugs with them successfully. but i'm really worried this one gets shut down and i do not even have the tiniest chance of doing anything about it.

i'll keep going with it. but it just runs all by itself now. a very smart, distributed system, i just receive payment notifications.

edit: one thing about twitter: i can not spend any of the payments i receive. if twitter shuts me down tomorrow (they likely won't), i have a lot of people who paid me for a yearly account and it's money i need to refund. so that's locked up credit at this point until the year expires.

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