The Place Card Teardown

You didn't tear apart my idea so I decided to do it myself.

Last week I asked you to tear apart my place card idea. Literally the next day I started reading The Mom Test. Here’s the first paragraph:

People say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea. That’s technically true, but it misses the point. You shouldn’t ask anyone whether your business is a good idea. At least not in those words. Your mom will lie to you the most, but it’s a bad question and invites everyone to lie to you at least a little.


So I guess perhaps not surprisingly I didn’t get a lot of “your idea sucks” comments on the blog. Now I know to try and ask you in a smarter way next time.

So, instead of getting input from you, I thought it might be fun to try and tear apart the idea myself. Without further ado I present to you opposite of the pitch…


The Place Card Teardown

Hi Cory, it’s your more skeptical and better-looking half here to give you a dose of reality.

You thought your idea was good but it’s really not. I’m going to tell you why.

Why Not to Choose Place Cards

In no particular order, here’s why placecards are a bad idea.

  1. You’re wrong, there’s not a gap in the market
  2. It’s not a real problem, and you don’t understand it
  3. You can’t capture the market
  4. The unit economics of advertising don’t work

Let’s dive in!

There’s not a gap in the market

You assert that there’s a gap in the market. But there’s not. The market breaks down like this:

  1. People who want to do something unique and memorable and have money
  2. People who want to do something unique and memorable and don’t have money
  3. People who just want something straightforward and have money
  4. People who just want something straightforward and don’t have money

For Groups 1 and 2 you’re screwed. You can’t make something nice or unique enough for them. They will spend time thinking about it and want to do something special, which your offering is inherently not.

You also can’t capture Group 3. They will still pay to get something more elegant or easier done than what you can offer. Gonzo.

So that leaves Group 4—likely the smallest group—the people who want something straightforward and don’t have money. Unfortunately for you, these peoples’ needs are already being met! They can download a template for free—or if they want they can pay $10 for one on Etsy—and then they can enter the names by hand.

Why don’t they need your product? This takes us to our second point.

It’s not a real problem, and if you understood it you’d know that

You think that entering 100 names into a word document is a real problem? Have you literally ever talked to anyone besides yourself who has planned a wedding? People have two things they invest into weddings: money and time. The less money you have the more time you invest. One hour in the scheme of wedding time is the equivalent of $10 in the scheme of a wedding budget—It’s nothing.

Only a computer programmer would think that entering 100 names into a document needs to be automated. Everyone actually planning a wedding will just throw on an episode of “Orange is the New Black” and get it done—like every other thing they have had to do.

Ergo, this is not a real problem, it’s just your problem, and you are weird. Do you think normal people also don’t use shampoo anymore?


This is how programmers think, not normal people. (source: xkcd)

You can’t capture the market

Ok, so let’s assume that 0.1% of people planning weddings actually think like you and want this product—which, remember, might already be wrong. It still doesn’t matter because it will be impossible for you to reach them. Not hard, impossible.

Let’s look at the different avenues you might try.


You think that you can find those people from search? Do you know what they are searching for? You searched for “place card generator” and “place card maker” and you thought the pages that came back looked beatable. You know why that’s true? Because no one searches for “place card generator”.

Literally, there are 10-100 searches per month for those terms. I have data to back this up. “Place card generator” is an idiot thing a computer programmer would search for, not a normal person. Normal people don’t know what a “place card generator” is.

Keyword Avg. monthly searches
place card maker 10-100
place card generator 10-100

All search data comes from Google Keyword Planner - it’s really cool!

What do normal people do? Well you probably don’t know because as we know you don’t understand them, but if they use Google (which they might not - they might just go straight to Etsy or Pinterest or something cool that you don’t even know about), they probably just search for “place cards”, or maybe “printable place cards”.

See? Those look a bit more reasonable:

Keyword Avg. monthly searches
place cards 10k-100k
wedding place cards 1k-10k
printable place cards 1k-10m

But before you get all excited about these numbers remember, to show up on a search as generic as “place cards” you’re going to be competing against giants like Minted and Etsy and Wedding Paper Divas. If you think you’ll be able to out-rank them you’re crazy. No one is going to find your site on Google if you don’t get to the front page, and there’s no way you’re going to do that for anything that people actually search for.


The fact that you’re using xkcd in this post shows just how out of touch you are with the wedding market

Direct / targeted marketing

Ok so maybe you want to get these people by going to where they hang out and referring them directly to your site. Maybe someone asks about place cards on a forum and you point them in your direction and a few people see it. You do that 100 times and slowly people start to trickle in.

This could plausibly work as a looooong term strategy, but are you really willing to put in the work to make it happen? You’ve already been banned from wedding forms by just asking the wrong questions, you think you can actively promote your product and not get shut they hell down?

Also, you don’t even know where they hang out! You literally made your Pinterest account yesterday. Do you even know how to pin something?!

You will be so far behind the game on this.

Word of mouth

Can you get your product to spread via word of mouth?

First you’ll need a great product. People don’t spread the word about okay products.

Then you need to find someone in that small set of people that actually want your product and get them to use it. Remember, there aren’t many of them and you don’t know how to find them, so this is already a tall task.

Then you need them to have a great experience with it. Hopefully this will happen if you actually made a great product, but it’s definitely not a given.

Then, you need them to know other people just like them who also happen to be getting married.

Frankly that’s a lot of ifs, and in practice this will only work after you are able to reach some critical mass of people using your product which, remember, you have no idea how to do.

It’s not looking good.


Ah, your one possible savior. You don’t need to get on the front page of Google if you can just buy some ads and insert yourself there, right?

Unfortunately this takes me to my next and final point.

The unit economics of advertising don’t work

Let’s go back to those keywords that people actually use and look at some of the other data provided by Google.

Keyword Avg. monthly searches Competition Suggested bid
place cards 10k-100k high $1.23
wedding place cards 1k-10k high $1.64
printable place cards 1k-10m high $1.53

So first of all, note that the competition for these keywords is high. That’s already bad news for you.

More importantly, look at Google’s suggested bids. Google thinks you should pay about $1.50 per click. If you’re pricing your product at $10 you will need to convert 15% of visitors to paying customers. Do you really think you can do that?

Heck, even if you double your price you need 7.5% of people who clicked on those ads to pay you. This means that they need to not only be the right type of customer (which they probably won’t be), but they need to try your product (more than half will probably give up before this), figure it out (which they probably won’t), have it be exactly what they want (which is unlikely), and be willing to pay (basically no one). If you think you can achieve scalable profit through these numbers you’re crazy.

Other ad platforms will likely have similarly bleak economics. The ad thing is just not going to work. Sorry to break it to you.

In Conclusion

This is a cute idea. It really is. But it’s not a business.

It will probably be useful to a few people, and those that it is right for (who actually manage to find it), will like it and possibly even pay you a few dollars.

However, if you think you’re going to be able to live off the income generated by this you are living in a Candyland fantasy. While you’re there, try the magic gumdrops, I hear they’re delicious.


—your better (looking) half

This was quite fun and helpful (and a bit cathartic) for me to write. I’d actually recommend that other folks considering entrepreneurial ventures try this exercise themselves.

Deep down I probably align more with the teardown than the pitch, though I hope the truth is somewhere in the middle. Frankly, if I can achieve the reality of the teardown’s conclusion—building something that helps a small number of people and makes them happy while occasionally paying for my lunch—that’s not so bad for my first solopreneurial venture.

Thanks for reading.

p.s. check out my place card maker and let me know if you have any feedback!