One great thing about working at O+O is the value and attention focused on the quality of ideas versus the quantity of them. It’s a cliche we take quite seriously, and quite often. In the Lab, if the workload allows, we’ll throw some ideas upon the board and take turns pitching why we think there should be an app that can read our minds like a mood ring, or why we want to build an app that lets you turn any inanimate object or landscape into an anthropomorphic playground using your mobile camera. Ideas tend to get more ridiculous immediately before and after Burning Man, as you can see.
I’m no expert on what makes a genius idea. I only know what works and what doesn’t. And I guess I don’t even know that much, all the time. That’s why we play and experiment with new technologies and app prototypes, and we discover that the strongest ideas come from places of actual human stories, which is what you’ll read in any beginner’s book to advertising, art, or engineering, you name it. Most of the time the ideas are so simple, you’ll wonder why it hadn’t been thought of sooner. Many times we’ll hit an obstacle in the user flow of life, and think to ourselves, “Dang. I wish there was a way to make this more efficient or at least more enjoyable.” And then of course the, “There’s an app for that!” campaign.
Air BnB couldn’t have been been as successful before the development of social networking, in my opinion. Neither could Tinder, or Uber, obviously. Both of these ideas are genius in their simplicity, yet they’ve revolutionized the way we interact in the global community. They’ve shifted cultures. And the awesome thing about that is, new technology is being developed every day. In offices just like ours.
This blog post was inspired by a video I saw on The Verge, a popular technology and lifestyle blog. It showcases a service that began as a “What if?” moment after a man and his wife approached one of those bumps in the road where you get frustrated and have that thought, “Dang. I wish there was a better way.” In this case, it was an unsatisfactory dog kennel experience. So they started using their home as a dog kennel, and ended up earning $35,000 in eight months from this side gig. Then the big idea: “What if this could be a full blown business venture?” The narrative was as basic and human as:
This lousy and annoying thing happened.
I think it could be done better.
I will do it better. I did it better.
DogVacay was born from a real human story. It solves a problem that didn’t have a clear solution. It does so with efficiency, simplicity, and ease. It always works, even when it doesn’t. What I mean is, when an amazing idea happens like Uber or Air BnB and disrupts entire industries that have been operating and capitalizing on this basic human need for decades (taxis and hotels), those industries are going to be, how you do say, pissed off. LAX didn’t allow Ubers to arrive at the airport, and some cities like Santa Monica forbid you using your home as an Air BnB. But it’s too late. The disruption has already happened, and once users find a better way to do things, you can’t untell that story.
Which brings me back to DogVacay and the concept of offering a service while cutting out the high operating costs, physical inventory, employees, and complications therein. DogVacay connects pet sitters with pet owners. DogVacay vets and trains all the hosts, as well as providing things like insurance, daily photo updates, and 24/7 emergency support. The DogVacay story, however, isn’t as much of an overnight success as it sounds. The challenges were raising funds, and the founders found it hard to convince investors in the beginning. Then after the fundraising, staffing hosts, and launching the service, they found there was no demand for the service. No one was using it. This is where the story gets interesting.
The relationships between pet owners and their pets is sacred. It was family. How do we get someone comfortable with giving their dog to a stranger? This is when investing in PR became valuable. They created some buzz and then placed focus on the real stories of real families who use their product. They pushed out community stories to local press, and that’s when it took off. Word of mouth kicked in after the company took the time to showcase real family stories. The success of the business relied on the passion and integrity of the hosts and the reviews from satisfied pet owners who took advantage of their service. Pet owners trust other pet owners, basically.
So now we have a more robust understand of a great idea:
Identify a real human need, problem, or insight.
Propose a solution.
Fund that solution, develop a business model or prototype, and push it out into the world.
Invest in PR, but mostly the community to drive awareness.
Keep searching for ways to improve.
DogVacay can be regarded as a “one trick pony” and to me, that’s the beauty of it. A truly great idea is simple, so it has less room to fail or err. But while that may be true, the industry is competitive and sometimes ideas run the risk of being overtaken by another great idea with a similar model, but it’s slightly better. DogVacay took this in stride and has since explored ways to expand the company, offering daycare services instead of just boarding, along with grooming to compete with companies like Petco.
Some people are in the school of thought that startups are a bad thing for our economy. Perhaps. But why not see them for what they are, as encouragement and inspiration to continue to improve the way we interact with our environment, solve annoying problems with simple solutions, and maybe those corporations who are grumbling about losing business will follow suit and look for efficient ways to drive business and solve problems. The power of community!