As an entrepreneur we are constantly wearing different hats. The dev, the designer, the marketer, the CEO — we are all of these things at different times, often switching throughout the course of a single day. Two of the hats entrepreneurs often find themselves wearing are the optimist and the critic. On the one hand, we must be optimistic to believe that we can achieve success. Why choose an entrepreneurial journey if not to succeed? On the other hand it’s also important to remain skeptical. Being skeptical is the best way to find out when you’re on the wrong track and not invest too much energy into a business that isn’t going to succeed. Skepticism helps us fail fast, get better data, and ultimately be better connected to reality. When it came down to evaluating my own product idea — an app that automatically generates place cards for a wedding from a spreadsheet of guests — I decided to do it twice, once with the optimist hat on and once with the pessimist hat on. The result was quite fun and an insightful learning exercise. Part 1: The Optimist Why Choose Place Cards? In no particular order, here’s why I think a place card maker is a good idea: It’s a real problem, and a problem I understand It’s a huge market There’s a gap in the market There are great partnership opportunities It’s easy Let’s run through these in order. It’s a real problem (and one I understand) I came across this problem because I . had it Twice in the last year I’ve been involved in placecard-making for a wedding and both times it was painful. I knew exactly what I wanted — a site that let me create great looking place cards from a spreadsheet of guests I had — and it just didn’t exist. Mindlessly entering data into a Word document for an hour isn’t the worst thing in the world, but on the days leading up to your wedding there are definitely better things to worry about. I know this because I experienced it myself. I am my own customer, so I know the idea is good It’s a huge market I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you how big the wedding market is. If the then I am asking for (probably) less than 0.1% of a couple’s budget. It’s nice to be able to talk about your pricing in terms of bowls of shrimp. average cost of a wedding in the US is $26,645 Here’s a quick table that shows a few possible revenue numbers based on potential pricing and sales numbers. Is 15 sales per day achievable? I have no idea but it doesn’t sound crazy. This doesn’t seem like a crazy path to generating enough revenue to live on. There’s a gap in the market Many of the other products I looked into revealed competitors that were doing basically exactly my idea, but with place cards this isn’t really the case. There loads of competitors, but they are all either serving a slightly different customer, or not as good as what I think I can offer. are Here’s my best assessment of the competitive landscape: There are like and . These places are behemoths, and they largely focus on delivering you the finished product, as well as serving your entire wedding experience (e.g. invitations, thank yous) end-to-end. big print shops minted.com Michael’s I’m not going to be able to compete with these guys, nor do I want to try. There are that do something very similar to my idea, for example . Frankly, from what I’ve seen — both of which I believe are hugely important to this idea’s success. I also hope I can market my product better than they do. a few niche sites seatingcard.com I think my product can beat them in design and usability There are , for example on or independent sellers like . However, I think the experience of using these can be improved significantly by my product. In fact, , and I’m excited about it. loads of designers selling printables Etsy Download and Print I think the people selling printables are potential partners not competitors There are great partnership opportunities So here’s my vision for how I hope to work with the designers who are already selling printables. My key value add will be the ability for a person to customize their layouts with their guests in seconds. I’m not going to be able to make the best designs, or do the best hand-printed thing, I’m just going to solve this one tiny problem really well. My hope is that by providing this service I will also able to create a place on the internet where people go to get their placecards made. If I’m able to accomplish this, then all of the sudden I have a marketplace, and my site becomes a great marketing channel for designers to sell more of their designs. So the pitch to designers goes like this: Look, put your designs here. I’ll give you the same amount per-sale that you make on etsy and it’s basically free money and you never have to think about it. Also, if people download your designs on etsy, you can send them my way to fill them in I’ll give you a little kickback. The other great part about this plan is that if it works I get a bunch of awesome designs on the site for free. This is important because I am design-impaired and have no idea how I would get nice designs on the site otherwise (without paying for them). Seems win/win for everyone involved, no? Just ! like Uber It’s Easy Last — but certainly not least — I think building this thing will be pretty easy. As of the time of this writing I’ve spent about 10 hours on it and I feel like in another 10 I’ll probably have a minimum viable product ready to test with. And it’s fun, to boot. Feeling good about the idea? Think I’m onto something? Oh you sweet summer child. Let’s continue this journey now from the perspective of the critic. Part 2: The Critic Hi Cory, it’s your more skeptical and probably-better-looking half here to give you a dose of reality. You thought your idea was good but it’s really not. I’m going to tell you why. Why Not to Choose Place Cards In no particular order, here’s why place cards are a bad idea. You’re wrong, there’s not a gap in the market It’s not a real problem, and you don’t understand it You can’t capture the market The unit economics of advertising don’t work The marketplace doesn’t matter Let’s dive in! There’s not a gap in the market You assert that there’s a gap in the market. But there’s not. The market breaks down like this: People who want to do something unique and memorable and have money People who want to do something unique and memorable and have money don’t People who just want something straightforward and have money People who just want something straightforward and have money don’t For Groups 1 and 2 you’re screwed. You can’t make something nice or unique enough for them. They will spend time thinking about it and want to do something special, which your offering is inherently not. You also can’t capture Group 3. They will still pay to get something more elegant or easier done than what you can offer. Gonzo. So that leaves Group 4 — likely the smallest group — the people who want something straightforward and don’t have money. Unfortunately for you, these peoples’ needs are already being met! They can download a template for free — or if they want they can pay $10 for one on Etsy — and then they can enter the names by hand. Why don’t they need your product? This takes us to our second point. It’s not a real problem, and if you understood it you’d know that You think that entering 100 names into a word document is a real problem? Have you literally ever talked to anyone besides yourself who has planned a wedding? People have two things they invest into weddings: money and time. The less money you have the more time you invest. One hour in the scheme of wedding time is the equivalent of $10 in the scheme of a wedding budget — It’s nothing. Only a computer programmer would think that entering 100 names into a document needs to be automated. Everyone actually planning a wedding will just throw on an episode of “Orange is the New Black” and get it done — like every other thing they have had to do. Ergo, this is not a real problem, it’s just problem, and you are weird. Do you think normal people also don’t use shampoo anymore? your This is how programmers think, not normal people. (source: ) xkcd You can’t capture the market Ok, so let’s assume that 0.1% of people planning weddings actually think like you and want this product — which, remember, might already be wrong. It still doesn’t matter because it will be impossible for you to reach them. Not hard, . impossible Let’s look at the different avenues you might try. SEO You think that you can find those people from search? Do you know what they are searching for? You searched for “place card generator” and “place card maker” and you thought the pages that came back looked beatable. You know why that’s true? . Because no one searches for “place card generator” Literally, there are 10–100 searches per month for those terms. I have data to back this up. “Place card generator” is an idiot thing a computer programmer would search for, not a normal person. Normal people don’t know what a “place card generator” is. All search data comes from — it’s really cool! Google Keyword Planner What do normal people do? Well you probably don’t know because as we know you don’t understand them, but they use Google (which they might not — they might just go straight to Etsy or Pinterest or something cool that you don’t even about), they probably just search for “place cards”, or maybe “printable place cards”. if know See? Those look a bit more reasonable: But before you get all excited about these numbers remember, to show up on a search as generic as “place cards” you’re going to be competing against giants like Minted and Etsy and Wedding Paper Divas. If you think you’ll be able to out-rank them you’re crazy. No one is going to find your site on Google if you don’t get to the front page, and there’s no way you’re going to do that for anything that people actually search for. The fact that you’re using in this post shows just how out of touch you are with the wedding market xkcd Direct / targeted marketing Ok so maybe you want to get these people by going to where they hang out and referring them directly to your site. Maybe someone asks about place cards on a forum and you point them in your direction and a few people see it. You do that 100 times and slowly people start to trickle in. This could plausibly work as a looooong term strategy, but are you really willing to put in the work to make it happen? You’ve already been banned from wedding forms by just asking the wrong questions, you think you can actively promote your product and not get shut they hell down? Also, you don’t even know where they hang out! You literally made your Pinterest account yesterday. Do you even know how to pin something?! You will be so far behind the game on this. Word of mouth Can you get your product to spread via word of mouth? First you’ll need a product. People don’t spread the word about products. great okay Then you need to find someone in that small set of people that actually want your product and get them to use it. Remember, there aren’t many of them and you don’t know how to find them, so this is already a tall task. Then you need them to have a great experience with it. Hopefully this will happen if you actually made a great product, but it’s definitely not a given. Then, you need them to know other people just like them who also happen to be getting married. Frankly that’s a of ifs, and in practice this will only work after you are able to reach some critical mass of people using your product which, remember, you have no idea how to do. lot It’s not looking good. Ads Ah, your one possible savior. You don’t need to get on the front page of Google if you can just buy some ads and insert yourself there, right? Unfortunately this takes me to my next point. The unit economics of advertising don’t work Let’s go back to those keywords that people actually use and look at some of the other data provided by Google. So first of all, note that the competition for these keywords is high. That’s already bad news for you. More importantly, look at Google’s suggested bids. Google thinks you should pay about $1.50 per click. If you’re pricing your product at $10 you will need to convert . Do you really think you can do that? 15% of visitors to paying customers Heck, even if you double your price you need 7.5% of people who clicked on those ads to pay you. This means that they need to not only be the right type of customer (which they probably won’t be), but they need to try your product (more than half will probably give up before this), figure it out (which they probably won’t), have it be exactly what they want (which is unlikely), and be willing to pay (basically no one). If you think you can achieve scalable profit through these numbers you’re crazy. Other ad platforms will likely have similarly bleak economics. The ad thing is just not going to work. Sorry to break it to you. The marketplace doesn’t matter Oh yeah, that marketplace idea you had? That’s completely irrelevant. You can only create a marketplace if you have people on there who are things, and as we see above, that’s not gonna happen. buying In Conclusion This is a cute idea. It really is. But it’s not a business. It will probably be useful to a few people, and those that it is right for (who actually manage to find it), will like it and possibly even pay you a few dollars. However, if you think you’re going to be able to live off the income generated by this you are living in a Candyland fantasy. While you’re there, try the magic gumdrops, I hear they’re delicious. Sincerely, — your better (looking) half Ah there’s that healthy dose of skepticism we needed. Like I mentioned at the top, this whole exercise was quite fun and helpful — and a bit cathartic — for me to write. I’d definitely recommend that other folks considering entrepreneurial ventures try this exercise themselves. We practice our pitches all the time, but practicing our skepticism can be just as insightful and helpful. Deep down I probably align more with the teardown than the pitch, though I hope the truth is somewhere in the middle. Frankly, if I can achieve the reality of the teardown’s conclusion — building something that helps a small number of people and makes them happy while occasionally paying for my lunch — that’s not so bad for my first solopreneurial venture. This piece was modified from content originally published at coryzue.com where I write about my solopreneurial journey. If you liked it please press the heart so others can find it too!