Today, Sprouter, a Q&A site dedicated to helping startups by attracting successful entrepreneurs to answers questions, announced it will be shutting down August 2nd.  Founder Sarah Prevette cited, “capital constraints” as the cause of the shutdown.

Seeing a niche Q&A site forced to close down is not a great sign.  I believe Sprouter may have failed because their niche, entrepreneurs and startup junkies, could not support their business model.  Personally, I go to Namesake when I need to reach out to entrepreneurs.

I believe InStat Sports will be successful building a large, passionate community of sports fans.  We are taking steps towards partnerships that will help broaden our awareness while continuing to build great features behind the scenes.

Speaking of which, development is rounding the final turn.  I cannot wait until it’s ready.

Oh, and the NFL is back…AWESOME!

Yesterday on TechCrunch, Robin Wauters posted an article announcing that Beepl, a company building a Q&A site, had received funding to the tune of $400K.  Hooray for them, I am glad the market for Q&A products is still frothy.  But, I must address what I see as an issue for a business looking to “build a better mousetrap” as the author says.

Beepl’s goal, and the goal of Quora, their most obvious competitor, is that they are trying to be a knowledge base for everybody, on everything.  From the article on TechCrunch, Beepl is:

“…building a platform that will enable users to get quality answers to their questions, as well as opinions from relevant topic experts, enthusiasts and their social graph.”  

They want to answer any question you have, which I think is a great idea, but one I do not think is a very profitable unless approached the right way.  Granted, I have absolutely no idea what they are doing behind the scenes, but I believe that as long as you are going after the “any answer, on anything” market, you will never be the answer because the internet is full of answers (and opinions).  The job of a Q&A site is to gather knowledge into one place, but how can you have all the knowledge about everything? One company that I believe is doing things right is Stack Exchange.  They have grown slowly and organically, only launching new communities when they have enough regular activity.

I do not think any user will ever think to go to just one site when they have a question about anything.  When I have a question about where to go, maybe I will use Localmind (when they launch an Android app).  When I have a programming question, Stack Exchange; sports question, well, that should be obvious, but you get the idea.  I definitely think there is a usefulness to sites like Quora and Beepl (depending on how it turns out), but I do not believe the business can be a profitable one, or one that can be sustained over long periods of time.

What do you think?  I welcome your opinions in the comments.

 

UPDATE 11/14/2011: I migrated the blog, this is the only comment on this post, from “Steve on 7/22/2011.”

“Thanks for mentioning our start-up and I understand your point entirely with relation to whether or not a niche approach is a better one.

That said, we (obviously) think that our approach is a worthy one and something that we hope to validate in the next few months. While we are inevitably being compared to Quora, we are taking a different approach. Watch this space.”

I mentioned last Friday, when I announced we had added a new team member, that InStat Sports would have some big news for you on Monday.  Well, as you can clearly see in the title of this post, we are announcing our Alpha Test Launch.  Development is almost done, design is wrapping up, and we are ready to introduce InStat Sports to a limited audience for testing.  We are limiting the alpha test invites to 100, which should be just enough for all your early adopters out there 😉  Included in our very first (alpha) release will be:

Ask & Answer Questions via Web
You will have the opportunity to test the knowledge, quickness, and English grammar skills of our crackerjack staff of stat-obsessed sports fans and professional sports statisticians (want to become one of our stat-obsessed sports fans or professional sports statisticians? Check out our Jobs page!).

Search & Browse
You will be able to search and browse our database of questions and answers to sports questions as it grows.  A selected group of alpha invites will be granted the ability to edit the database in order to ensure accuracy.

Answer Alerts
You will be able to receive their answers via email or SMS* (standard text-messaging rates may apply).

Personalized Profile
You will be required to complete a profile which includes basic contact information (name, email).  As InStat Sports grows, additional options will be added to the profile.

All Updates
Alpha testers will have the unique privilege of access to our updates as they come out.  We have many exciting features in the pipeline and you will see them as we roll them out.

Awesome Stuff
We have not even printed them yet, but as soon as we do, all alpha testers will get a FREE STICKER! WOOOHOOOO!  If we print T-Shirts, you can have one of those too!

For our alpha release, we are looking for tech-savvy, early adopting sports fans who want to contribute to building a great product.  No press at this time, please.  You will be encouraged to share your opinions on all aspects of the site, including updates as we release them.

All of us over here at InStat Sports are excited for this alpha release!  We cannot wait to hear what all…errr….100 of you think about it!

If you are interested in signing up, please click here or on the “Alpha Test” link in the menu above.

I am happy to announce that InStat Sports has gained a team member.  Unfortunately, I cannot reveal his name just yet due to his current position.  But, I can tell you he is an excellent software engineer with experience building huge applications for big ideas.  He has also managed teams of engineers on numerous successful projects and his technical expertise is unbounded; he seems to pick up new skills every single day.  Needless to say he went to a top-tier university and comes highly recommended, and I am happy to have him on board.

The past week has been very exciting for InStat Sports.  There are lots of big things happening over here.  We hope to have some big news for you next week, so stay tuned!!!

As a graduate of the Founder Institute – DC (@founding), I am required, as my final assignment, to write a blog post describing my experience in the intensive 15-week program.  Being the rebel I am, I chose not to do a straight blog post, but rather, pose a question on the site Namesake.com, an awesome place where smart people talk about cool stuff, in real-time.  I had discovered it before joining FI and even posed a question on the site about the application process.  As such, I thought it would be fitting to answer questions from the Namesake community about my experience in Founder Institute.

So, at around 5 or 6 pm, I posted the following question:

“I am a graduate of the Founder Institute DC, and our final assignment is to post something about our experience. My plan is to post answers to questions from the Namesake community. Ask away. What do you want to know about Founder Institute?”

Although responses were a bit slow at first, mostly coming from Namesake co-founder Brian Norgard (who is also a part of Ad.ly), they were great questions and people were tuning in.  Eventually, Brian tweeted it out on his personal account and more people joined the conversation.  Around the time I wrapped up it had about 1k views.  Right now the totals stand at 1400+ views and 40+ comments (half of which are my answers).  I am not sure how they count views, but however they do it, there certainly seems to be a lot of interest in the Founder Institute, especially in entrepreneurial circles.  There were a lot of great questions, so if you are looking for some inside info, you should check it out.  Here are three of the best questions.  I feel a little strange quoting myself, so I will only provide a brief synopsis of my answers.  You should really check out the whole thing here.

Declan Dunn
Q: What’s the single, most important learning/insight you’ll remember most from your experience that you can apply to your next startup?

A: Do lots of research before/during/all the time and, be funny when you pitch.

Brian Norgard
Q:  What do you believe will be your single biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?

A: Lots of challenges, depends on product stage.  Right now, getting out a product I am proud of.

New Answer: Finding out the email for InstatSports mostly was not working while I was conducting a live conversation on Namesake… until the next day.  By mostly, I mean none of the email addresses were working except mine, hence the delay in finding the error.  Good thing my site logs that shite 😉

I thought this was the best question:

Andew Skotzko
Q: FI has imprinted a template of entrepreneurship onto your psyche. But doesn’t being taught/following that model fly in the face of everything the lean / customer development movement has learned about being agile, opportunistic, and questioning what you think is true?

My complete answer (copied/pasted verbatim):

A: That is a valuable point to make, and one prospective entrepreneurs should consider when they are thinking of applying to FI or any incubator. Every organization has a way of doing things, and the spirit of entrepreneurship practically flies in the face of these institutions. Entrepreneurs need to be agile and opportunistic, for sure, and I did think FI put certain pressures on members to accomplish certain goals when they were either unnecessary or not warranted based on the current state of the business. However, and I realize my own bias, I felt that FI did it’s best to provide a map AND tools, and it was up to the entrepreneur to get up everyday and do the heavy lifting. To that extent, FI served as a sort of boot camp in that it required us to do the work of running a business, while learning to run a business (very meta). Anyway, I agree with your point, but I still think there is value in incubators and institutions like FI for entrepreneurs that have most of what they need but need something more (motivation, a swift kick in the arse, advice, roadmap to success, contacts, etc.)

There were lots of great questions and it was a great experience for me.  Namesake did a great job handling the real time question and answer, something we are working hard to implement over here at InStat Sports.  I will continually monitor the conversation and answer questions when I can.

If you are too lazy to go to Namesake and check it out, I guess I can tell you about FI right here, but you really should check it out.

FI provides a roadmap and tools, and they do the best they can to put you in the right place and meet the right people and learn the right things, but it is up to the individual entrepreneur to make use of those things in order to build a successful business.

Boom.  There you go.

–Done.