The Startup Idea "Death Zone"

I spent a pleasant half-hour with a young man working on a food truck finder app last week. He'd coded it himself and done his best to hustle some customers and users.

Sadly, after six months, he'd developed little traction.

This man's idea (and many others that first-time founders dream up) exists in a "Death Zone" for businesses:

The vertical axis is the relative value of the product or service you want to sell. On a scale of safety pin to a cure for cancer, how much value does the business provide?

The horizontal axis is how broad is the interest in that category. The higher percentage of people that did your solution, the broader your category.

Here are some businesses to illustrate:

The bottom-left quadrant is the Death Zone. Why?

The explanation is that Narrow Interest categories mean it is going to be tough to find and market to your customer. In the case of the food truck finder, only a small percentage of people actually want to drive to visit a food truck. So, you're going to have trouble finding customers cheaply.

It's also offering a low-value service. How much is someone willing to pay to find a food truck anyway? The answer is not much.

So, Death Zone ideas are in an unwinnable situation. They're not providing enough value to a customer to exceed the high cost of marketing to them.

In the other quadrants, you can make it work. Just stay away from Death Zone ideas.

Michael Girdley