By Rishi Modi
Start-ups at the GSB
Looking for some trustworthy restaurant recommendations for your next trip to Napa? Need help setting up your new TV? Have an old textbook you’re looking to sell? These are just a few of the countless posts you could submit on Wishcan, a website currently under development by classmate Max Yeh (MBA’12). The concept for Wishcan is simple: provide users with an easy forum in which to ask for and give help.
What truly differentiates the site, which is currently active but under refinement, from say, Craigslist, is the ability for users to publish requests within any or all of the various networks they are associated with at once. These networks include interest networks, geographic networks, and even social networks through the site’s integration with Facebook. Submitting requests specifically to those in one’s social network or in one’s neighborhood, not surprisingly, allows users to maximize the odds of their requests being fulfilled. As a user bids on and assists with published requests, he earns “karma points,” a measure of e-credibility for others in the community.
Max initially began developing the prototype of the site roughly a year ago. The idea for Wishcan came to him around this same time, when travelling with his then-girlfriend to Tokyo. He knew he wanted to propose during the trip, and of course, like any guy, he wanted to make sure he did it just right. Unfamiliar with the city and the language though, he didn’t know where to make a restaurant reservation or where to buy flowers. He recalled, “I barely found flowers… At the end of the day I was successful, but it could have been easier!”
Realizing that his situation was probably generalizable, his conviction was further bolstered after joining the GSB. Seeing the frequency with which students used the (inefficient) email blast system, Max knew his idea had potential. “Kids ask for help all the time. What has made us stop asking for help? It’s artificial the technical barriers that have made us stop asking for help and we want to remove those barriers.”
With little programming experience, he began putting together a prototype for the website last fall. It was during finals and as he recalls, “Some people clean to delay studying, I chose programming, because anything is better than studying for exams.” A few months later, he connected with his co-founder Michael Lu, another graduate student at Stanford. The two alone have spent the past year programming the site and getting it to where it is today.
As for the future of Wishcan, Max sees the next step as most difficult, involving finding validation of the site and attracting users, which he hopes to do with the help of new teammates Wainwright Yu, Brandon Hsiung, and Tiago Domingos (all MBA’12) during his second year at the GSB. “It’s a classic strategy case of demand-side increasing returns. The more people on the website, the more useful it will be for everyone”, says Max.
What’s his advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs out there? Tactically, he believes that finding a partner that you trust who can act as a sounding board is critical in order to keep you grounded. After that, developing a prototype is extremely important, largely for recruiting purposes and because “an idea is not the source of competitiveness, it’s the ability to implement that idea.” Ultimately, though, Max says, “My advice is to just do it. You learn as you do. The MBA is the perfect time to start a business because you have very low opportunity costs.” This is great advice, though I may just ask someone else to do it for me on Wishcan.