Are We Crazy?

May 27, 2008

Today I was talking to a venture capitalist named Elliot Katzman whose last gig as an entrepreneur in the 1990s involved launching, a community site focused on little league baseball.   They sold the company to the Active Network, a company that has rolled up several other sports-oriented sites, in 2001for an undisclosed price.  It looks to have been a decent financial exit, though Elliott would say that they didn’t achieve their initial goal.  His opinion:  It is extraordinarily difficult to succeed in businesses that target education communities.  “It’s a hit business” like movies or music — meaning you can have a great product but cannot control whether the public will love it.

I had a similar conversation with Jon Carson, currently CEO of cMarket and previously the founder of the Family Education Network.  He has a similar story to tell — successful exit in a sale to Pearson Education, but failure to achieve the strategic vision on which the company was founded.

I’m beginning to get the sense that a number of experienced people are looking at what we are doing at SchoolPulse with a certain amount of skepticism.  “Sure, it’s a noble idea, but do you really want to commit years of your life to making it happen?  Is it a smart career investment?”

So here’s the question:  Are we crazy?  Elliot Katzman asked me why SchoolPulse will succeed when so many others have failed.  I have three answers:

  1. We know the need personally.  As an engaged father of four young kids, I experience the need for a product like SchoolPulse every day.  Like everybody else’s kids, ours play sports and instruments, have play dates and birthday parties, juggle homework with screen time, and leave their parents with almost no time for themselves.  It’s a wonderful, amazing, and chaotic circus but it’s a hell of a challenge to hold together.
  2. Our audience is primed.  Concepts like web 2.0, social networking, and blogging did not exist when Elliott and Jon were starting their previous companies.  According to Forrester, 53% of U.S. adults aged 27-50 are active users of social media.  That’s over 53 million people!   92% of GenXers are using email and nearly 20% post to or maintain blogs.  That wasn’t the case 10 years ago!
  3. The technology is easier and cheaper.  I can’t quantify the decline in technology costs, but I can say that the cost of designing and building a really good social media site is a fraction of what it would have been 10 years ago now that almost every killer social media app is embedded in open source content management systems.

If you construct a map of the top 10 social sites, you will notice that they all draw their core audience from the GenY cohort.  GenX is an opportunity ripe for the picking.

I’ll ask again:  Are we crazy?