Planza - startup advice
I had coffee with a Belgian entrepreneur visiting San Francisco. Here are some of the advice I shared with him.
I met with Jeroen De Smet, the belgian founder of Planza, a doodle for finding not only the right date but also the right location for any event. He came to San Francisco for the Node Summit and he was taking the opportunity to meet with other entrepreneurs to get some advice.
I like the idea a lot. It's simple and straight to the point. You enter a few possible dates, a few possible locations and the list of people to invite. They receive an email and they can vote for the best date and location. I could see using it myself to plan our next ski weekend to Tahoe for example.
Here were my advice to him:
Focus on the first time user
The site is currently over engineered and over designed. The idea is simple and is supposed to save people's time. Why bothering them with a tour video, a login form, a contact menu, ...? It's all noise.
When you design a website, the most important visitor to design for is the first time user. When I first go to your site, I need to understand what is your value proposition. What does this thing help me achieve? Is it hard to use?
In this case, the very first screen should directly ask for multiple dates, multiple places and multiple people. That way, I can directly see what this site can do for me and how. It could also suggest a few ideas (e.g. a weekend in Tahoe, a weekend in Las Vegas, etc.). And a one liner at the top to explain briefly what this service does would be helpful too (e.g. "Choose a time and place, together").
Remove todos and discussions. You don't want to give people the impression that this is a "full fledged event planning software". That sounds complicated. The success of Doodle was its simplicity. It's not a complicated scheduling system. It's dead simple. And in consumer products, the more features, the more complicated, the smaller your target market will be.
"Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away" – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Move to SF
Given that Jeroen's goal is to go after the consumer market, he has to be here in SF. There is just a much higher probability to succeed by being here in the capital of the web industry. It's fine to keep the development team in Belgium. In fact, it's actually even a good idea since it's so hard to hire great engineers here especially if don't already have a network by having worked or studied here. But one of the founders need to be here full time. That's where he will get the right advice from people with the right experience. Those people are here, not in Belgium. And it's not only advice but also connections and amplification. If people here start using the service, there is a much higher likelihood than other people around the world will follow. The opposite is not true if you start in Europe. All of this can make a big difference.
Raise an angel round in SF
Beyond the money, you need validation from people in the industry. You need to convince people here that your product is worth investing. To do that, you need to show traction. There is no way around it. Traction doesn't mean necessarily millions of users. It's more about excitement and momentum. Show people that you are growing and that your existing users love the product. As Sam Altman put it, there is only one way to grow huge: make something that people love and that people will recommend to their friends.
That's why the metric that I love the most is the number of returning users. If you get someone to come back, it means that you have created enough value to justify spending more time with your service.
For Planza, I see 3 top metrics that can be used to convey traction: How many new events created per month, how many of those were created by returning users, what's the virality (i.e. for 10 people invited to an event, how many end up using the service themselves to plan their next event).
I know that Jeroen is already working on all those points and I can't wait to see where this is going. It's a great idea with a great team. They just need to learn to do less and focus more on the essence of their service.