How I failed to pivot because of the ‘coolness factor’

iBeacons? Build something with them!

A couple of months ago I was browsing the news and stumbled upon Apple’s iBeacon technology. After some digging on the internet I figured I would like to build something awesome on it. I started brainstorming with my best friend and all-time business partner on the potential and what we could do. Initially I had a hard time trying to persuade him thinking out of the box. Apple has set some boundaries for this technology in the way they pivot it. They proposed indoor navigation or showing some price tags. However in two or three quick iterations we had the idea ready: use it as a foundation of a new dating app. Ironically we failed because I was unable to think out of the box – and didn’t see the need to the pivot.

The idea – let’s revolutionise dating!

The app’s workflow was pretty simple: you fill a form about yourself and your dating preferences. The app immediately starts to publish this information on Bluetooth Low Energy. In the same time it starts a subscriber and polls for other people’s broadcast. If someone is within range and there’s a match you and the potential partner would receive a push notification, asking whether or not you like the other party. You’d be able to show interest in the other party by hitting a nice green “Interested” button. Alternatively you could politely turn them down by tapping on the red “Not interested” one. If both parties are interested they are notified and they can begin getting to know each other. Due to the very nature of BLE and iBeacons, these people would be in close proximity, so this would be pretty easy.

Why would anyone use this thing?

Now what is the purpose of this? Why would I fiddle with my smartphone instead of just walking up the other person? In one word, what is the pitch? Well, for starters the sad thing is that everybody is always hooked on their phone. I’m not in the position to judge this, but sometimes it’s pretty hard to deal with it. People are perceiving the world through their smartphone screens, and in the end, more aspects of “real” life would march to that screen. The other point is that everybody has insecurities. It takes courage to walk up to another person and initiate a conversation, particularly if you have romantic intentions. We’d just facilitate the meeting process by providing a painless (or at least, less painful) way to deal with rejection.

The technical problems

I implied in the beginning that we eventually failed to build this app. What was the problem? In short I was too focused to build something on iBeacons and BLE that I built the whole idea around it. And Apple has some technical limitations in place which made it impossible to deliver the product using this technology. In a few words, your app would have to run in the foreground, and the other party’s app too. This of course is not a viable scenario for this kind of app.

And failing to overcome them

I was so blinded by the cool new technology factor that when it turned out we cannot do this I didn’t start to pivot, despite all the startup literature I read. And we were pretty close, with just a little pivoting, we could have delivered a working product. The proof is ntice, a Hungarian startup with the exact same idea.

Conclusion

So what’s the conclusion? It’s pretty clear from the outside and common sense dictates that you need to pivot or persevere (or, worst case, let it go). This scenario was clearly a pivot one, the solution would be to ditch iBeacon and work on some check-in based stuff like Foursquare. Or ditch Apple and go with Android. Or something else that never occurred to me. But never ever let the opportunity of using a cool technology cloud your judgement.

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