Just after NineAligned formed in September 2014 a colleague was reading the local free newspaper, “20 Minuten”.
He came across a group of students that were selling their business. It looked like it could be something interesting to kickstart NineAligned.
The students had identified that they, themselves, in their age group of 16 to 21 year olds, were really embarrassed when it came to buying condoms in the supermarket.
To understand this, let’s get into their crazy heads for a moment…
You get to the row in the supermarket called “Family Planning”, you now have to select a packet, but which one, because you cannot pick them up to explore and read the packaging, and finally after agonising under serious duress you put a random pack into your basket, cover it up with your spaghetti whilst you walk around, and when you finally get to the checkout, still wondering if you have the best one for you, you put everything out onto the conveyor belt and discretely and shyly cover up the condom with your lettuce and then, with great horror, you look up only to realise that the checkout girl is about 23 and very cute.
T-H- A-T is a teenage boy’s nightmare. So a group of four male students together with the university’s entrepreneurial support, formed a company and offered an online condom subscription service. They even had an exhibition stand.
But not only that! These young guys had actually built up some great contacts to the authorities. For example gynaecological experts and condom manufacturers. They also knew and understood for example that quality “stamps” are required within Switzerland. Meaning that it was not possible to import non-brands for example, from China!
They were selling everything: The eShop, the stand, contact details, packaging, manufacturing contracts etc. So we contacted them and met up with them, which was difficult because of their studies. We could have a quick look at their accounts and get a feel for these guys. Clearly the first question we asked is why do you want to give up this enterprise? Actually the reason was very simple to imagine: They are all focusing on their studies and actually were all slowly going in their own direction so they were not aligned, so to speak.
It is a Brilliant Idea
To be honest, this idea seemed quite interesting. A condom subscription service to 16 to 21 year olds feels like a never-ending service. It also matched with NineAligned’s principles of making a difference to someone’s live. In this case, reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted teenage pregnancies.
But as we started to discuss it within NineAligned we came across one slight issue. It was related to the subscription business model.
How does a teenage boy know how many condoms he’s going to need in advance?
Clearly a dumbfounding question for your average teenager!
We Still Walked Away
Despite the fact that:
- the books were known and therefore the value too (we could more or less calculate “pie”)
- there were some great networking connections that we would get
- the investment was not great.
- It was scalable, there is a never ending supply of demand.
- It could have potentially accelerated NineAligned.
- It fit to NineAligned’s purpose,
we still declined and walked away. Why? There were two reasons. The first was relatively minor. We recognised that the subscription based business model had not been validated according to, for example, the principles of lean start-up. The assumption was that teenage boys wanted condoms on an on-going basis. Their egos said “yes” but the reality is something else.
Yet the thing that really made us nervous was that the four founders would not be available to us. Their knowledge would not be accessible.
How did we know this? It was very difficult to meet them. They cancelled several times and finally, when we did meet, one did not come.
The risk was too high.
So we stopped it, despite the possibilities and initial enthusiasm.
It just goes to show that there is no shame in stopping projects early. Do so!