Didn't work Wednesday: Local Game

I moved to NYC in the fall of 1999. I had come up for a weekend over that summer and met my future wife…and I was growing very restless in my job at American Express…the Dot Com craze was in full swing and so I figured why not?

I put my resume up on dice.com and quickly had a recruiter set me up with 9 interviews over the course of a three day weekend trip. Out of those interviews, I got 8 offers (and the 9th wanted to do a follow up interview).

All of the offers were at least double what I was making at the time, and all seemed like really interesting and fun companies for my 25 year old self to get involved in.

I struggled a bit with the decision on which to take (my friend, and often life-advisor, Keith Nordberg helped me weigh the many options – thanks again Keith!), but ultimately the one I opt'ed for was a company called <KPE>.

<KPE> was a division of Grey Advertising that was gearing up for a spin-out and hiring like crazy. They didn’t offer me the most money, but what they ultimately sold me on was the idea that they were going to back some of their employees ideas as well.

Looking back now, they were BetaWorks about 8 years before BetaWorks even started – but they didn’t manage money nearly as well as BetaWorks does nor were they as mission driven and focused (fodder for another post sometime I guess).

Anyway, the seed to turn thedfl into something bigger had already been planted in my head and that made me grossly aware that, though I could build just about anything ‘web based’ at that time, I had no idea how to grow, scale, or profit from it. I needed help figuring it out (or at least exposure to how others were doing it). <KPE> seemed like it could offer the missing piece of the puzzle.

So I took the gig, moved to NYC, and started pitching in on some really interesting client work (I was mostly assigned to the Hasbro account, but pitched in on a handful of other fairly high-profile things).

Because I didn’t completely think of it as a business yet, and because I hadn’t fleshed out all the details, I never actually pitched the powers that be at <KPE> on thedfl (or supermug). At the time, fantasy football was not yet the national phenomenon it is now and was considered a bit nerdy (most didn’t consider it a real market or business).

Instead I came up with a completely different idea to pitch them on, LocalGame.

LocalGame was an idea that came to me while I was on the subway heading to the office one day. The basic idea was a way to use the internet to find pick-up/casual games of things like basketball. What I wanted to do was basically create a database of all the parks around NYC (to start), and then put in a bunch of meta-data around each park (facilities/courts available, level of play that usually goes on, average amount of players in a game, etc. etc. etc.)…and then it would simply be a matching system.

It was supposed to answer the question: “Where can I find a pickup game at my level?”

I won’t go into all the details (there were plenty) but my grand vision was that the system would eventually be used to host/run tournaments and events (and that is how it would make money). It would be for any park, any sport, any level, anywhere and everyone.

Remember this was 1999.

So nothing like this existed yet, and most people weren’t even thinking that much about the possibilities of online/offline connections (I was also somewhat obsessed with a scavenger hunt idea around this realm too – but never could get others excited about that one for some reason).

Anyway - I pitched the rough idea to the powers that be, and they liked it!

This was it! They were going to take my idea, build something amazing, and I was clearly going to be one of those 20-something internet millionaires I had been seeing on magazine covers all over the place!

But - as you all know - it didn’t turn out that way (and that magazine cover opp. still hasn’t happened). So, looking back, I think there were two big mistakes I made:

1. Expecting someone else to do something amazing with my idea.

<KPE> actually did do a bit of work on helping me flesh out the idea (they had one of the designers come up with a killer logo). And a small team did flesh out some of a project plan…but I had to mostly focus on my client work and often wasn’t involved in the conversations around the developing project.

I didn’t realize until after, that by pitching the idea I was essentially giving them the idea…and then my role was considered done (until it would eventually come time to code). If it worked out, I might get a little something. But it was clear, I wasn’t really going to be a big part of the vision, the decision making, or the evolution of the product.

This was the first, and last, time that I pitched a raw idea (that I personally wanted to develop). I have since developed a “prove with code” approach, and attempt to push a prototype of my 'true vision’ as far as possible before showing or pitching anyone for help.

2. Thinking that someone exploring your idea means they are committed to it.

<KPE> had green-lighted my idea (and one other employee’s idea – that also didn’t work out)…and there seemed to be legit excitement around the potential. As I mentioned, they actually were putting some resources into fleshing the idea out. So I thought it was only a matter of time before we would actually launch the service.

But what they didn’t do was dedicate any full resources to the project – everyone involved had higher priorities (client work for example). It was easy to shrug this off as “gotta pay the bills”, but the truth of the matter was that they had plenty of money in the bank (they had raised 20+ million right before I joined) and they had many employees focused on client work (more in fact than we had paying clients – again fodder for another post).

The hard truth is that, if you are not willing to dedicate/focus a full resource to a given project, then you don’t *really* believe 100% in that project yet. You might get there eventually, but you won’t will/push/force it there (and most raw ideas need that to actually survive).

In the case of LocalGame, I was told that <KPE> got wind of a small group somehow attached to Chelsea Piers was working on a somewhat related idea for basketball…and that was all that was needed to put LocalGame on hold.

These days I worry less about potential competition (even if they beat me to market, the road to winning execution is long and wide).

I also try to make sure that I’m never in a position to directly compete with the hand that feeds me (<KPE> was an agency; it made it’s money from servicing clients and so it had to be careful not to build products that would directly compete with it’s clients or any client that they may want to eventually land).

Most importantly, the lesson to take away from all of this is – if you’ve got an idea YOU believe in, YOU need to make it happen. Don’t hope, expect, or completely rely on others to make the magic happen.

My time at <KPE> was very short and exciting. We were doing high profile client work, having lavish company parties, and even working a little on my own ideas…but the climate around us was starting to show signs of crashing. On a personal level, I was starting to get worried about the money the company was spending (and the decisions it was making) compared to the actual work we were bringing in and doing.

Shortly after LocalGame was put on hold, the recruiter who had placed me did the routine check-in to see if I was ready to make a move yet or not (it had been about 8 months after all – nearly a lifetime in the DOT COM craze)…and though I loved the people I was working with, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to explore my options (I ended up taking the gig with reviews.com a few weeks later).

Eventually I let the registration of localgame.com expire (by then I was focused on supermug and didn’t want to waste the $ each year on the domain I wasn’t using). Actually, of everything around this story, letting that domain go is probably the biggest regret I still have.

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).