Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Judy's Book to Close, Lessons Learned

I really appreciate the willingness of Andy Sack to open up his thoughts about the missteps of Judy's Book over the course of it's existence. This sort of content is so useful and engaging for those of us that are onto the next thing, plugging away, yet need something to pull our head out of the details for a bit.

Judy's Book was a company that I followed closely because of our kindred beginnings in 2004; both funded by Ignition Partners, and both focused on social networking as a key lever in our businesses.

I wanted to add my thoughts to his points in this particular post- perhaps add a layer of perspective from Jobster.

The first mistake: we weren't aggressive enough in customer acquisition.
I remember this coming up several times in our feature meetings, where we had the opportunity to really "grease the wheels" of allowing a common consumer who does not have MS Outlook, and yet the notion was met with hesitation that is was too aggressive. Looking back, this should have been one of the first things we did, which was to make it seamless for a common user to pass on opportunities to contacts regardless of where they were stored (hotmail, gmail, etc.).

"We had the idea of using the address book as a hook into customer acquisition but we never spent the energy and focus to really maximize the use of the address book in growing the social network."
I believe Jobster has implemented this today, after nearly 2 years of considering it. I think in some cases we lost sight of some of the core social user scenarios that could have really changed the game for candidate referrals.

The second mistake: we expanded out of Seattle in August 2005 and went national.

Expansion is something that could be geographic or it could be expanding into another product line, or another market. This is really a fine line for a startup, in that strategically it makes sense to place a few bets, yet too many bets can stretch the focus of the organization too thin.

"At Judy's Book we had a BIG vision -- I think in retrospect, perhaps too big for a
start up and in retrospect I think we didn't take the necessary steps to break
that BIG vision (your friends yellow pages) down into sufficiently small enough
baby steps to prove out the concept before expanding the concept

Jobster had a BIG vision as well. Did we break that vision up into digestible pieces? I think we did so early on. Where we maybe did not do that good of job was in setting goals and metrics for each of those pieces, which would have told us when it was time to (1) accelerate our investment due to success, (2) shift focus on other areas due to lack of traction, or (3) create a SWAT team to troubleshoot the problem areas because we saw evidence that we were on to something.

For Judy's, competitive pressures maybe pushed them into making a decision that they truly did not yet need to make? That is a tough one as well; we struggled daily with how to respond to competitive pressures, whether they were subtle or audacious "shots over our bow."

I think a great example of smart expansion is Urbanspoon. Having watched these guys from the beginning, you can tell that they are being very thoughtful about expanding the scope of their restaurant review site. Although I haven't chatted with Adam, Ethan or Patrick much since their departure from Jobster, you can easily tell from the gradual evolution of the site that they only started to add cities once they had figured out what they wanted the site to be. Good stuff.