When Should You Quit? This One's Going to Hurt a Bit.

Published: Jun. 7, 2016

This is a story about Jon. It’s a bit long, but you’ll like it.

Jon is a talented entrepreneur who had a startup idea that everyone loved. Then he quit. And it was the best move he’s made as a founder.

LET’S START FROM THE TOP

About a year ago, Jon had heard enough about droughts and water shortages across the country and he decided to do something about it. He wanted to start small, so he looked at his own daily water usage. He realized that he wasted water letting his faucet run continuously while he brushed his teeth and washed dishes.

Jon decided to build something that would retrofit any sink to become motion-sensing. When hands or a dish weren’t under the faucet, it would shut off. It’d turn back on when they were.

He imagined a companion app that would display stats like how many swimming pools of water each customer had saved, creating a shareable hook and closing the feedback loop.

Jon isn’t an engineer. Or a plumber. But he is a badass, so a few trips to Home Depot and a flooded apartment later, he had a working “prototype” that took anyone about 7 minutes to install on any sink. Jon installed it in his apartment and started saving water.

Next, he found someone who would build him a professional prototype he could start showing off. He figured he’d use this to build a Kickstarter campaign. The prototype was priced out at around $10,000. He was figuring out how to scrape together that money when a friend suggested he apply for Tacklebox .

Jon and I started working together in late 2015. We were both ridiculously excited about the idea. We set to work on who the initial customer segment would be.

Our instincts were to start with people like Jon — people living in NYC and concerned about the environment. Customer interviews surrounding Walter (the name we landed on) were encouraging. Everyone loved this thing.

“Build it and we’ll buy it,” we heard over and over.

So we started on an MVP. An MVP validates your riskiest assumptions. One of ours was that people would put their money where their mouth was — that they’d actually buy Walter and hook it up to their sink like they said they would.

We ran a few campaigns for the people we’d spoken with as well as new customers. Long story short —no one actually bought it.

We tweaked messaging, channels, and customer segments. Didn’t matter. People simply weren’t interested in paying to save water. We learned that the vast majority of NYC residents don’t pay for water or have any idea what it costs.

Helping with a national water shortage was something they’d gladly talk about, but this shortage caused them no real pain. When it came time to buy, they were out.

B2B THE PIVOT: B2B

We shifted our focus to people that did pay for water. Residential building owners. Gyms. Hotels. Starbucks. Maybe this was a B2B play. We started aggressively reaching out.

Nope.

Water is artificially priced (low) in NYC — installing units for tenants in a building would be a hassle and save them peanuts. Same with gyms, hotels, or chains — many of which already had native motion sensing faucets anyway.

We banged our heads against the wall with some other segments before deciding that while this was a serious global problem, it wasn’t actually a problem for anyone in NYC. Water was cheap. There was no shortage on this coast. No one would buy this thing.

We were shoe-horning a product we were passionate about into various apathetic customer bases. They were far more likely to just donate 20 bucks than to buy and install Walter.

Jon pulled the plug.

THE AFTERMATH

Why tell this story? Isn’t Tacklebox supposed to help you launch your startup idea?

That’s exactly why we tell this story.

Because you have a lot of ideas and limited time. It is very important that you chose the right one. The key is having a framework to quickly evaluate and execute on ideas. Tacklebox is the framework —we teach you tactics to evaluate problem, customer, market, competition, and business model to understand if an idea has legs. This will hopefully help with the idea you came to the program to build, but if not it’ll set you up for success in the future.

Here’s Jon talking about the experience.

“This saved me tons of time and tons of money. Probably thousands of dollars building a more refined prototype. I’m really grateful for how that turned out, and for the next idea I have a set path for how to going about building a product from prototype to finish…”

We’d love for every Tacklebox story to be a story about growth.

But sometimes the best stories are about getting the bad ideas out of the way to free you up to build the great ones.

You’ve got a finite amount of time to build stuff. Jon is now working on something with serious potential, and he’s got a clear framework on how to do it. And he’s a total badass. I’d bet on him.

Brian Scordato