My so-called start-up life

Right guys, I’m going to need you to get up to speed quickly on the past 18 months.

Remember BeNeighbourly? That planned saviour of local communities, friend of the lonely, promoter of all things nearby.

Dead. I killed it.

Let’s be honest, the bees were the best bit. The bees were great. Everyone loved the bees.

Unfortunately, “everyone” was only a few hundred people. And they weren’t that bothered about the app itself. Which rather suggests that I should have saved the money on the app development and just sold bee stickers.

For those (sickos) who like to pick over the bones of a failed start-up, here’s the post-mortem:

It wasn’t a specific-enough problem: loneliness is a general feeling. It’s not a clearly defined problem. Nor is there a clear group of people for whom it’s a problem. We didn’t have great hordes of lonelies milling around, wistfully looking for a solution to their woes (if I had, I would’ve given them a hug).

We were caught between two types of people (1) those who felt a bit lonely, but not enough to make them want to do something about it and (2) genuinely lonely people who were too scared to go and mingle, so didn’t get beyond creating a profile.

Not enough going on in the ‘hood: turns out, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything going on in our neighbourhood. We (by which I mean my lovely, patient, sister Vicky) spent all our (her) time trudging around looking for events to put in our listings. And boy was it patchy.

If your listings only ever contain the same 3 things, you’re done. Especially if those are baby rhyme time, knitting circle at the library, and jazzercise.

Twitter and Facebook already had it covered: those who wanted to get involved in local stuff had generally already sniffed out local groups on Twitter and Facebook, so people just weren’t bothered about joining another social network. Oh and then there was Streetlife (the existing local social network that we found out about the day before we launched; the one that had Stephen Fry doing their video voiceover; an office in Covent Garden and which had started in exactly the same area, so it was a local hero…).

And we hadn’t anticipated just how wary people are of new things. We tried to advertise our site on local email chat groups, but it was the equivalent of getting hounded out of town by angry villagers with pitchforks. People were very mistrustful of our motives. They didn’t want to BeNeighbourly with just anyone: only with a very select group of people.

Great features don’t mean a thing: we actually built some great features – matching users’ interests to local events and groups, so users were notified every time something new came on the site that matched their interests; and event organisers had an incentive to upload new events, because they would be pushed out to users who would be interested. Really nifty, we thought.

Unless you can get enough of an audience to put these features to good use, they are worthless. Without the event organisers, there wasn’t enough content to push to users, so it became redundant. We called that feature “Snap”. I mean goddamit, we gave it a name.

It should have been a local discovery app – on mobile: we realised pretty early on that what we should have built was a mobile app that helped people discover what was going on around them, using the sort of geo-tagging that FourSquare was built on.

Problem was, there were already tons of other start-ups building something similar that had already been funded. So we were just too late. (http://www.locappy.com/; http://www.spottedbylocals.com/app/; https://findery.com/).

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Because we found a new calling. We’re going to help all of us who are part of Generation F***** to navigate our lives of (mainly) debt, possible unemployment due to robots, crazy house prices and pipe-dream retirement.

Stay tuned.

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