Startup success depends on relevancy

From Flickr.

There are tons of factors that determine whether or not a startup will succeed. There’s the founders, the team around the founders, the user experience, the investors you bring on, and the list goes on and on. I have yet to be involved with a successful startup but I have observed one thing in this crazy startup world, and that is that relevancy matters.

There are new consumer-focused startups popping up every day, many that make me wonder why in the world anyone would even use them. And as I mentioned, there are plenty of reasons why some startups succeed and some fail, but I want to give 2 examples of both and relate them back to relevancy.

The Good

Facebook. Way to point out the obvious, I know. Well, when Facebook first started, it was a way for college students to connect with each other and have their own little network. And as we all know, college is about sex and partying…right? If you have seen The Social Network, there is a scene where Mark Zuckerberg has an epiphany. He realized that Facebook (or The Facebook at the time) can be a tool for students to see each other’s relationship statuses, since that was and is a big driver of social interaction. That, coupled with the ability to communicate with friends and fellow students, created relevancy.

Uber/Lyft. What’s more relevant than transportation? People have places to be and therefore need a way to get there. If you have plans to go out and drink, you obviously want to avoid drinking and driving. So you may pre-party a little, call a cab and then you wait 10-15 minutes for it to get there. Uber and Lyft allow you to call for a “cab” through their app and now you know exactly how much time you have to chug down your last drink. Even better, you no longer have to roam the streets trying to flag down a cab on the way home. You can just ping either an Uber or Lyft driver. Simple and relevant.

The Bad

Zaarly. If you are not as familiar with Zaarly, it was a random requests marketplace that created quite the buzz in early 2011. They began at a Startup Weekend in LA and the buzz took off during their time at SXSW. It all moved so fast. The concept allowed individuals to ask for anything they needed, for example doing their laundry or picking them up some lunch, and then someone else on the other side can offer to take care of those tasks for a fee. It was a pretty simple and interesting concept but how is Zaarly doing now? Well they are now a home services platform. So what happened exactly? I obviously do not have the behind the scenes information, but it all comes down to relevancy. Although this marketplace idea was interesting and compelling, there really wasn’t a huge need. It seemed cool to pay someone to do your laundry for you or pick up your lunch, but in a shitty economy, every dollar counts. That and it encouraged major laziness. What it seems like Zaarly discovered was that there was a high supply and demand for people offering and needing some sort of home service. Their irrelevant minor tasks marketplace allowed them to discover a relevant niche, and for that reason they made the pivot to focus on home services.

Foursquare. Let’s be honest, Foursquare is far from a failure…at least in terms of awareness. Most people have used or at least heard of the app. At first, Foursquare was a location-based gamified app that allowed users to check-in to locations and earn badges. The cool thing was that some places had special offers and discounts if you checked-in. That was the main reason I used it…for the discounts. I didn’t really want people to see where I was at all times. But as soon as those specials and discounts began disappearing, so did my check-ins. It no longer was relevant to me. Foursquare has since made a few pivots, moving away from the gamified check-in app to a social recommendation and discovery tool.

In Conclusion,

There are many factors that will determine the success of a startup but you have to first start with relevance. If you product or idea is not relevant to a specific target audience, it will not matter how great your team or user experience is. This is why the Lean Startup Method encourages young startups to get a quick, simplified product in front of users as soon as possible. Testing the MVP will allow you to see whether or not your concept is relevant because relevancy matters.

Your turn: Do you have any other examples of successful startups that hit the mark for relevancy?


Another example very apt for the present post is Instagram. Its evolution from Burbn based on iterations and beta testing reviews but having "relevance" as the uno numero behind its success.