Scott Case | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Scott Case

Background:  

Scott Case co-founded EnergySavvy, a software services company working for utilities across the country, after a successful career in online marketing technologies. He spent five years leading product management and marketing at aQuantive before heading out on his own. 

The Mistake:

While I was at aQuantive in a software product management role, my job was to go out and talk to our customers, understand how they were using our software and how we could improve it.

In doing that, I came up with this really cool idea around reducing waste in online ads. For example, you go to the same website [multiple times] and you see the same ad for something you’re not interested in. We had an idea where we would create this secondary market and revenue share where we would pay back [a company] for the ad impression that it would have gotten and wasted money on.

Logically it made a ton of sense and it was a cross-company effort. It was a big investment for us. And after about three months of engineering work we launched it, and it was a total dud. A few of the clients used it a little bit, and they just sort of lost interest.

It ended up being a total waste of time, and it was a really costly mistake for the company. So, why? What happened there?

The problem that we were solving was not big and painful enough.​

The Lesson:

The problem that we were solving was not big and painful enough. I should have had a much higher bar. The customers [we did have] weren’t going to change the way that they did things or take risks for just a 20 percent efficiency gain. It should have been something where it was, at a minimum, a five-time or 10-time difference in their outcomes. This was already a pretty large company, and it was going to be a large initiative.

In retrospect, I should have had fistfuls of signed contracts from customers saying, “I will make a long-term commitment to using this because it’s so incredible, and this is what I will pay you,” to really guarantee usage. I still think that by the books it totally would have worked. It did work on a small scale, but it just didn’t matter enough to push it out across the industry.

I’ve taken these lessons into the industry we’re working in now. I consider utilities the ultimate "prove it’" industry. At EnergySavvy, by and large, we never do work on speculation. Everything we do has to have a launch customer and have really solid validation. I think that’s the only way we’ve been able to be successful in this business. I’ve seen so many startups come at this industry without that discipline.

Follow EnergySavvy on Twitter at: @energysavvy.

Photo courtesy of Scott Case.

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