Unwittingly, my job has given me a fair amount of exposure to, and interaction with, entrepreneurs building the next big thing. Whether it’s a gadget, software platform, online service or earth-shattering productivity whatchamadigger, I meet and talk with up-starts and start-ups from several walks of life. Many are trying to pitch me to write about their stuff. Some are trying to hire me to help them market it. Others are just like-minded folks sharing stories over a drink at a conference.

Lockerdome LogoMind you, I am not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense. I own my own consultancy, but it’s me, a fertile mind and a laptop. My overhead is lunch money. I’m also not a venture capitalist or angel investor, so trusting my opinion of what makes a good startup should come with a bit of a grain of salt.

What I bring to the table, however, is the perspective of the average guy. I can look at an idea and say, “Yeah, people will get excited about that.” I can also say, “Here’s what’s wrong with it.” Some people like the brutal honesty. Others don’t. I can’t help it. As a friend says when introducing me, “Be warned: He was born without an edit button.”

While there are varying levels of everything and no hard-fast rules for what makes or breaks a start-up idea, here’s the main difference I’ve found between really good ideas and all the rest:

The key to startup success is having an idea that solves a problem, not just a symptom.

Classmates solved a symptom: Connecting with old high school friends. Friendster (then MySpace, then Facebook) solved a problem: Connecting anyone of like mind and interest.

Instant messenger solved a symptom: Real-time electronic communication with friends. Twitter solved a problem: Real-time electronic communication with anyone, anywhere.

This is not the only, or most important, litmus test for a start-up’s success. It’s just one that can tell you whether or not the idea has true legs, sustainability or large profit potential. Unfortunately, most start-up ideas solve symptoms. It doesn’t mean they aren’t profitable or good ideas. Many make a lot of money and are acquired by huge companies. Symptoms are good to solve. But when you’ve solved a problem … that’s impressive.

I’ve been talking on- and off- with Gabe Lozano for a couple of years now. He’s the founder and CEO of Lockerdome.com, which is trying to solve a big problem in a very fractured and niche industry. In fact, it has been my conversations with Gabe that brought clarity to the notion of symptom versus problem outlined above. Gabe uses that spiel (said much more matter-of-factly than my attempt at prose) in his pitches and presentations.

Lockerdome is trying to make sense out of amateur sports in an online platform that is part social network, part information aggregator and part media platform. The symptoms around what’s wrong with amateur sports from an information standpoint are daunting to consider. Baseball alone has a few dozen governing bodies, leagues, organizations, rules and such. One kid can play on 3-4 teams per year, not including the official, school-sponsored teams. Consider similar fracturing among basketball, soccer, volleyball, football and more and you start to see how keeping up with both team and individual information would make even Google say, “Screw that!”

But Gabe sees the problem, not just the symptoms. The problem is the lack of a uniform system of recording and sharing information. He hopes to have every coach, team and league record or input their schedules, stats and news in a uniform matter to his tool, which then connects the dots of individual players for you. Your son or daughter’s player profile (once dependent upon you entering his or her stats from a singular sport) can now become a dynamic, ever-growing information resource with statistics, results, recaps and vitals from multiple games, teams, leagues and even sports.

College recruiters for the major universities alone ought to be funding Lockerdome. Or at least sports information directors (college athletics’ version of PR folks) should. If Lockerdome reaches its full potential, information will be a commodity, not a premium for these folks. And that’s just the statistical information standpoint. Lockerdome hopes to become the amateur sports resource for news and information for local newspapers, media outlets and more.

Lockerdome is just a couple of years old and has only recently begun to fully bring to life the problem-solving vision Gabe talks about. Their growth will likely be slow until some parents, coaches or leagues with some influence have some proof points to sing its praises. Only time can make those proof points emerge.

And therein lies the biggest challenge Lockerdome faces: time. How quickly can it scale with its current limits of resources, human and otherwise, to grow its user base? Will the proof points emerge fast enough for Lockerdome to become the online home for amateur sports information and news or will the proof points start to pop shortly after Gabe gives up? (Gabe is far from giving up, I assure you!)

That, I’m not qualified to answer. But I do know this: Lockerdome solves a problem, not just a symptom. There’s something really impressive there. I hope they grow fast.

What start-ups do you know of that solve problems, not symptoms? Tell us their story in the comments. Who knows? We may just help someone grow fast.


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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/gabelozano Gabe Lozano

    Thanks, Jason, for the lockerdome love! We're humbled.

    We love attacking such a daunting problem; to solve a market this fragmented, we believe that to do so you have to focus on solving a bunch of smaller, related pain points along the way. Each piece that is solved, however, must symbiotically work together for the vision to emerge. For us, this means that at this very moment we focus on solving a problem for the high caliber club baseball programs, which possess a very high saturation of the top talent and influencers in this market (and in baseball, data is extremely important). We’re seeing some positive results, with a nice chunk of the top rated baseball programs in the country already on board as paying customers.

    From a technical standpoint, my co-founder Yomi Toba, is intrigued by the technical problems this market – and our approach – presents. Yomi is a stud, so we’re blessed that he feels that way!

    Thanks again!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thank you, Gabe, for the inspiration for the post and trying to solve
      a problem!

  • http://smoginc.com/ david

    Again, you’re a stud. Thanks for the morning brain tease.

    To me, this falls under the category of “all because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” That said, I believe as a society, we have lost our ability to even address these concerns and the prevailing mantra has become “yes we can and yes we will.”

    So, “amateur sports” and its participants are on their way to becoming a national database. I can here it now, “your participation will be voluntary.”

    Poor, little “Johnny” he only wanted to play baseball and have some fun, but he “finds” himself ranked to the point of embarrassment. Ah! There’s always chess.

    Keep up the great work.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the comment, David. I guess there is a flip side to the technology, but the usefulness of it, I would think, outweighs the incidents of aggregation of stats and the like being a negative for folks. Still, it's an issue worth addressing. Thanks.

  • tessacarroll

    As a former high school athlete, I appreciate something like Lockerdome and I think it could potentially be a huge success once the logistics are set. This is definitely something that college recruiters and PR people could use for a million different things and it has the potential to be an impressive personal marketing tool for all athletes.

    Thank you so much for bringing this emerging company to our attention, Jason. I (and I'm sure many others who read your post) will be on the lookout for Lockerdome's big break. To Gabe, good luck!

    Tessa Carroll
    http://www.blogs.vbpoutsourcing.com

    • http://twitter.com/gabelozano Gabe Lozano

      Thanks, Tessa!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Tessa. Appreciate the encouragement for Gabe's group. Thanks
      for commenting.

  • Dr. D. Urion

    Gabe Lozano, to put it simply you are a stud. I visited your website and if I had extra money sitting around I would invest in a minute. Your ideas are revolutionary and I know your product will succeed and hit it big at some point. I think its just a matter of time until your company takes off even more than it already has. Something needs to be done about amateur sports information and the answer is Lockerdome. Continue the hard work and persistence will always prevail. Good luck! :)

    • http://twitter.com/gabelozano Gabe Lozano

      Thank you, Dr. D. Urion, for your gracious words and kind wishes :)!

      I love the excerpt from a famous Calvin Coolidge quote, which states, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

  • http://www.therisetothetop.com David Siteman Garland

    Fantastic article on a great guy and company (especially here in little ole St. Louis).

    Gabe really understands business and not just technology which is going to be a huge asset to them as they rock the sports world.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, David. Appreciate your thoughts on Gabe.

  • http://www.socialtality.com dmattcarter

    I like your (and Gabe's) take on symptom versus problem/solution. I recently became part of a start-up called SOCIALtality. What attracted me to this group was their attempt to bring a systematic metric-driven approach to the world of Social Media.

    There are several monitoring companies out there today that are solving symptoms: tracking brand/product conversation in the social space. Through keyword search results, they can aggregate mentions of a brand and track trends related to those mentions. I think this is a valid and useful function but, it seems limited to tactical insight.

    SOCIALtality, however is trying to solve a problem: quantifying a company's ability to attract and retain clients using a systematic multi-level measurement system that correlates social intelligence to return on investment. Here's a brief overview of the methodolgy: http://bit.ly/5Ju1ft

    Not to make this a promotion for the company but, thought I should share. I was always a bit leery of becoming involved in start-ups. As you say, many solve symptoms and symptoms are temporary. There's something to SOCIALtality's approach, however, that feels game-changing.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Very welcome to share, Matt. Thanks for doing so.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, Gabe, for the inspiration for the post and trying to solve
    a problem!

  • jamesgalt

    Gabe, you have my respect if you can make this fly. Years ago I was involved in a poor imitation of what you're doing. Our project that had some distant aspirations to yours but there was no mantle of “Unifying Body or Governing Authority” to our project.

    We were going to be more of an end-all sports portal/organization. Our project looked like dynamite on paper but in reality proved impossible to market due to the fractured/splintered nature of amateur sports and local sports scenes. The amount of unification, participation, goodwill, manpower, visibility, and money required to get things rolling proved prohibitive for us.

    We were going to monetize from several sources including: Corporate sponsorships, manufacturer ads, merchant ads, coupons, professional services, and online branded stores. Various methods were approached to effectively market this idea (event sponsorships, apparel, gear, street teams, paid athletes) but it hit one road block after another.

    The Corporate Sponsors and Manufacturers loved our ideas but needed to see aggressive grass roots support to justify spending a dime and putting their good names on anything. Until we could prove wide spread participation and deliver consistent demographics, they all preferred to spend their advertising dollars in more traditional ways. Nobody wanted to be the first to show up.

    Our particular project died on the vine because we failed to create a local buzz in the sports and fitness communities. We never achieved that critical mass needed to support such endeavors. The benefits will have to trump the athletes natural aversion to “Yet More Governance” and show a distinct benefits path to potential professional careers. Likely…Major League co-branding would allow you to do that.

    • http://twitter.com/gabelozano Gabe Lozano

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Feel free to drop me an email at gabe (dot) lozano (at) lockerdome.com (dot) com; I'd be happy to exchange thoughts.

  • http://www.prosetogo.squarespace.com/ Lisa

    This is great food for thought. I have often wondered myself about the dizzying array of children's sports. I have a nephew who played soccer about 10 months a year. It was kind of crazy in Florida, where the summers are brutal.

    I can see how this would help the colleges recruit, if they had all the data in one place. Gabe is a genius.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Don't disagree there Lisa! Thanks for the comment.

  • ismitt

    It doesn't matter what product you want to create, whether it be a website or a candy bar. If it doesn't address a particular need, then it's not going to work. For it to become really big, it has to cater to someone's need–and not just one someone, but a lot of someones!

    You should know what your product is and understand it inside-out. I read this article on focus http://budurl.com/u76q that would really help start-ups. It reminds all of us young entrepreneurs that we need to focus in order to achieve our goal.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the thoughts and the link. Appreciate the comment.

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