A Good Idea is Not Enough

March 3, 2008

We have been studying a lot of social media sites — sites where parenting, education, and community intersect — and my partner made a really simple and powerful observation today: “A good idea is not enough. It all comes down to execution.” I know it’s not original, but I was reminded today how true it is. Web development is a tricky thing. Web technology has so many capabilities, and is so easy to implement, that one can easily lose site of the original objective amidst all the possible bells and whistles.

We launched an alpha version of our SchoolPulse site two weeks ago after months of planning, design, and development. Our objective is to create a site where parents and teachers can congregate to share ideas, debate issues, and celebrate all the good stuff going on in their school communities, and we were pretty confident that our Rev 0.5 site would hit the mark. We did a “soft” launch in Concord, MA, informing very few people that the site was up so that we could fix the bugs and solicit feedback from local influencers. What did we hear? “Great idea,” “the site looks great,” “definitely something we need…” All very positive.

But as we listened more closely, we realized that our alpha site hadn’t hit the sweet spot. Our future users were somewhat daunted by the weighty conversations on the site (debates around big issues like the superintendent search and whether kindergarten should be half- or full-day). For people who aren’t already sold on the idea of sharing ideas online, those are intimidating topics to weigh in on. We also heard that those topics alone are not compelling enough to bring them to SchoolPulse every day. This month, we are conducting focus group research, talking to teachers, and reaching out to parent-teacher organizations to ensure that our Rev 1.0 site, scheduled for a regional rollout next quarter, has the right mix of features to win the minds and hearts of parents and teachers.

Our original idea is sound — people like the notion of being able to interact with their school communities online. The hard part is building a web site that delivers on that need — and that’s where execution comes in. We need strong marketing (that’s the listening piece), development (incorporating what we hear into our platform), user engagement (helping new users experience the SchoolPulse value proposition), and support (helping people through the inevitable technical hiccups). In our case, execution is about focusing on our users and delivering the best possible experience every time they visit SchoolPulse. We’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way.