Today was a watershed moment in career as an
entrepreneur. Google stole my startup’s idea by launching Helpouts.
On my way to entrepreneurship
I tiptoed my way into entrepreneurship. It had always been a goal of mine to start my company, but my natural risk aversion had held me back.
But by the time I got to Wharton last fall, I decided to never again work in a large traditional company (or a small traditional one). So I began preparing to forgo the usual MBA summer internship to instead chase an entrepreneurial experience. That’s when Lorious was born.
The Lorious concept
The original concept behind Lorious is simple. Experts could list their knowledge and experiences in various categories on a rich profile, which users could browse to make appointments or speak instantly over one-on-one video chat. The goal was to help people in areas as wide-ranging as gardening, woodworking, cooking, home repair, foreign languages, nutrition, etc. (Coincidentally, this is essentially Google Helpouts.)
Our mission was and is to help people reinvent their career. We want to help enable people to become solopreneurs and to monetize the skills that they already have by teaching and helping others, without working as a mercenary freelancer or committing to a full-time teaching career.
So by April I had a team and by May we joined an accelerator program. By June we began beta testing a product by offering remote video cooking and crafting lessons. We quickly learned that users didn’t like these remote lessons. Nuanced and tactile things such as knife skills are impractical to teach over live one-on-one video chat. Because of the placement of most laptop cameras, users can’t show your face while also demonstrating a kinetic skill.
So in a testament to the power of the lean startup method, we quickly pivoted to focusing on just one small part of our original market that we thought made the best sense based on our first experiences: Lorious is now help small businesses and startups that don’t have enough or the right tech talent by connecting them to experienced developers for consultations, advice and troubleshooting. After having our first few test conversations and generating our first revenue we’re convinced that this is an attractive market for us.
We’re still holding tight to our mission to help people reinvent their careers, but we’re starting with the market that makes the most sense—developers and tech people.
This Friday is our accelerator’s demo day, and we are looking forward to sharing our progress and our plans with a roomful of investors. I’m sure the top question on every investor’s mind will be how we expect to compete with Google. And now, just hours after Google officially announced Helpouts, we already have an answer.
Google’s entry in the market is a good thing for Lorious, for four reasons.
- Google’s recognition that this is an attractive market vindicates the Lorious team’s original concept, which is exciting for us as nascent entrepreneurs.
- Google will have some measure of success with Helpouts, which will help to educate our market about the value of this medium of communication.
- We know that developers and small businesses would rather hang out on a platform with similar others than being listed next to VCR repairmen and Sears customer service agents (the latter of which is apparently a Helpouts focus).
- We know that focusing broadly on tactile skills—such as gardening and repair work—will probably be difficult for Google’s first users. Obviously, if anyone could succeed with this, it would be Google. But, at this point, I’m convinced that this broad focus will dilute the potency and success of Helpouts.
- Bonus: not insignificantly, market sentiment is clearly not in favor of Google on this one. Quote from YC:
“Why would I invest the time into learning how this works, trying to become part of the community etc when I can be pretty sure that they’re just going to shut it down in a few years time?” –user24
The watershed moment
In the end, we know Google didn’t actually steal Lorious’s original concept. There would have been no way Google could have learned of our plans. Besides, ideas are cheap. Execution is everything. But we view Google’s entry in this market as a positive thing for Lorious.
And I know that, thanks to Google vindication of my original concept and idea, I’m more convinced than ever that entrepreneurship is the right path for me.