I had lunch the other day with a friend who asked, hypothetically, if I thought passion for helping a community could be the basis for starting a company. My first thought was that anything can be the basis for starting a company, but can it be the basis for a successful one? I shrugged it off, saying it’s always great to help your community, but you can count on it turning toward volunteerism.
Later that day, it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered the question properly. Passion for helping a community has sparked loads of highly successful companies. The key has been to focus on “community” period, not anything strictly limited to “a community” or “my community.” So much of what we do online these days is 100 percent tied to community interaction – usually interaction that’s of interest to a very large number of people in other communities.
Case in point: OpenTable. A marketer named Chuck Templeton got the idea for OpenTable in 1998 while watching his wife make multiple phone calls while trying to score a dinner reservation in San Francisco, where they lived. It occurred to Chuck that there should be a website where anyone wanting to dine in San Francisco could quickly locate a restaurant with open reservations and book a table. So he created just that site in 1999, serving a small number of San Francisco restaurants.
OpenTable now covers more than 31,000 restaurants worldwide that pay for its services with monthly and per-reservation fees, and the company seats more than 15 million diners each month. OpenTable’s market cap was at $1.67 billion on Thursday, June 12. Priceline announced an agreement to buy OpenTable for $2.6 billion, a 46% premium on Thursday’s closing price.
There are many other well-known companies that similarly serve the entire U.S. and beyond by serving communities: Care.com, Angie’s List, Yelp, Uber; I’m sure you can think of more. The same model of conquering the world one community at a time drove some of the dot-com era’s biggest busts, including Pets.com and Webvan.
So yes, passion for helping a community can be the basis for starting a successful company – as long as the fundamentals are sound, excellent idea meets excellent execution, funding arrives at the right time, and all of the other attributes of success come together. No matter how a company starts, success is one heck of a lot of hard work.
But when I think of Chuck Templeton watching his wife try to score a dinner reservation by phone and getting the idea that grew to $2.6 billion, there’s no question that you want to give those ideas very careful consideration.