Yesterday I shut down DeskHoppa. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was the right decision. It surprised a few people that I’d do such a thing and there were a few messages from dear friends wondering if I’d made the right call.

And no, I didn’t delete the code but I did delete all the data.

Marketplace Startups Are Hard

That’s the plain and simple fact. While it’s all very well knowing that there are buyers and sellers out in the market place, actually tying them together via your service is really hard. You are effectively marketing to two sides of the coin, it’s not a simple equation to complete either.

One of the hardest things to solve is in the initial stages. In DeskHoppa’s case you need hosts listing in order to get users searching. Hosts were the hardest customer to get on board, the require convincing and the harsh reality is that most don’t trust you until you can really convince them.

It’s a Numbers Game

Everyone I spoke to was lovely, “That’s a great idea, I needed that yesterday!”. The problem is that kind words do not put money in the bank. So you have to start with a figure in mind, £100,000 turnover for example and work backwards….

There’s 260 working days a year so that’s my frame of reference. £100,000 / 260 = £384.61 a day, that’s what I need to be doing as an average.

If my fees are £1.20 for every £10 booked (card fees are applied after so they don’t chew in to my margin), then I’m looking at 321 bookings a day. Now look at the real world side of that market, the funnel of users.

Search -> View -> Book. 

Assuming my booked users are the 321, I’m guessing the conversion rate is 3% from view to book (users just looking around do that, just look around). I need 10,700 host views a day based on my 321 @ 3%. That, however, is not the end of the story. Not everyone is going to be looking all the time, so far the assumption that 100% of the users are searching, that’s unrealistic. It’s probably 3% again, at best.

So what I’m really saying is I need 356,666 users signed up and booking daily to make £100k/year. Or 3.56m users to make a million revenue a year. That doesn’t even take hosts into account….

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin and GoogleAds…..

This is the first time I ran some experiments on ads. The ability to narrow in on target segments is critical, get that wrong and your spend vanishes in hours as a bunch of underage users poke around to see what you are doing.

Linkedin spends are quite expensive and at least they give a rough idea of the conversion (for my scenarios it was about 0.79%).

Ultimately boosting posts didn’t return anything, some nice users in the US and a two hosts who enquired. Once again though it’s a high volume numbers game, you need money to make money. I knew that all along.

There’s a Skill to Knowing When to Call it a Day

When I embarked on DeskHoppa I was under no illusions, building the service is the easy bit (well it is for me, I can write code quick). The key was always eyeballs and they’re really hard to get. If you fool yourself that folk always care then there’s a hard reality, the majority don’t, it takes time to get their attention and trust.

Knowing when to say, “that’s enough”, is done through various iterations of history. I’ve let things run too long before. Idea validation is the hard part and I don’t believe it’s about product market fit, it’s about market product fit. You have to build the market first, if that market doesn’t exist then you’ll spend a long while creating it. The first person I heard that flipped the whole Product/Market thing was Gretta Van Reil of SkinnyMeTea.

After review numbers and looking at what it might take to get things where they need to be, the right decision was made. There’s a worse position to be in, a service that just trickles money in but doesn’t quite break even. The signal that something is happening but not a volumes you need….. things can become a millstone quickly.

Finally….

There are some wonderful, supportive people out there. Ones who gave feedback, lists of improvements, shouted out repeatedly on social media. Ones who were blunt and told me the reasons why they wouldn’t host desks…. it was all valuable.

I emailed everyone the final email, to say thank you. You can’t just close a service and not say thanks. Some of the responses were lovely.

Thank you.