I was at a wedding last month, and ran into a bright young fellow who’s a friend of my two sons. He told me he’s just launched a new Internet business. The idea is like AirBnB, he said, but for parking your car: that is, when you can’t find a parking space when you’re out, say, shopping, you can go on roverparking.com and find a nearby homeowner with a driveway, who’s registered and willing to let you park there. It costs up to $2 an hour, and you pay through PayPal to Roverparking, which then remits most of the charge to the driveway owner, keeping a small fee for itself.
Sounds like a brilliant concept to me. But what do I know?
Actually, I do know a bit about Internet startups. From bitter experience.
About 15 years ago, I launched an online golf business called The Greenfield Network (TGN). The premise was this: let’s say you’re a member of a private golf club here in Toronto. Let’s say you have to travel to Atlanta for a 4-day conference. The Tuesday conference agenda doesn’t interest you, and you think, I’d love to play golf instead… but you’re a bit of a snob, so you’re not going to take your clubs just to play a lousy municipal course. You’d really prefer to play Atlanta Country Club. But you don’t know any members there. And even though you could ask your Club Pro to try to arrange a game there for you, that’s complicated and never guaranteed.
BUT, if you joined TGN, we might well have a member of Atlanta Country Club who’s also joined our network. If so, you would contact TGN, and we would attempt to set you up to play with the Atlanta member. (Or, if we didn’t have an Atlanta CC member, or he was busy on that Tuesday, maybe we’d have a member at Buckhead CC, an equally fine and private club in the city.) You would pay us the normal $150 guest fee at the club, plus a $25 admin fee, through PayPal; we would then send the $150 to the Atlanta member, through PayPal. We would arrange the game for, say, Tuesday at 2:00. Everyone’s happy, presumably, and no cash has to change hands in the parking lot. And The Greenfield Network flourishes.
(Many people, upon hearing the concept, told me “the private clubs would never allow this”, but in fact, the clubs would never be involved. The transaction would be strictly member-to-member, so the clubs, theoretically, would never know, or care. My club, for example, never questions the origin of any guest that I may bring to play.)
Of course, the network would only succeed as the database of members increased, and as it grew internationally. So a successful launch, attracting lots of members, was critical.
Unfortunately, that was our mistake. After startup development costs, my partners and I only had enough money to pay for an insert in a second-tier golf magazine, which catered mainly to businessmen, our primary target audience. Through some personal connections, I was able to get interviewed by Adam Barr on The Golf Channel on a Monday night, but three minutes on-air didn’t give me much time to explain the concept… especially when Adam kept saying this would be a great way to meet girls.
(Adam may or may not have shares in Tinder today.)
Anyway, the launch failed miserably… like, zero response. Not surprisingly, my investor friends all declined the request for more money, and I had already put in a lot more of my own funds than they had. My wife, in her wisdom, was not keen to allow me to mortgage the house and use the dough for a second launch.
So The Greenfield Network quietly closed, leaving its one member – me – wondering how something so brilliant could have been the online equivalent of the Monty Python parrot. And in subsequent years, wondering how guys like Mark Zuckerberg, and all the other social media billionaires I read about daily, could have been so lucky.
I console myself with the thought that my concept was solid, but our only mistake was not launching with at least 10 times more funding and more “splash” than we did. It was an expensive lesson, though, and while I’m grateful for the learning experience, I drive a lot less expensive car today because of it.
However, if you, dear reader, happen to have a million bucks or so lying around and you love golf and you’re dying to try to make a fortune in an Internet business, please give me a call.
Or drop by my house. I’ll even provide you with free parking.