What Problem are you Solving?
Custom built PCs are the best way to play games on PC. Unfortunately, building PCs can be quite a pain. While assembling them is not too difficult, knowing what parts to buy and how much to spend is a daunting class. There are so many options, many of them poor quality, Spark Computer sifts through it all and bring only the best to the customer.
The customer doesn’t need to know or care about PC specs or what brands are good and what’s junk. All he needs to do is think about what games he wants to play and Spark gives suggestions at different price points. The customer will get the best PC for his dollar, everything he needs, nothing he does not. Spark make building a custom PC as easy as buying an iPad.
The pain point, the need, is there. In 2 months, I had over 600 visitors to the site via reddit links and google ads. People like to play PC games, its the most open platform, but they want something as convenient as a console.
While some will certainly go and buy a Dell, and others are knowledgeable enough to do their own research and build their own PC from scratch, Spark tries to fit in the middle. We want to persuade that user who is on his way to Best Buy that he can build his own PC with a little help from us and it will be a far better gaming experience for him.
What went Wrong?
While I had many visitors, I had 0 sales. Convincing customers of trust, and providing substantial value proved difficult.
I know my builds are great, because I’ve built computers for 10 years and am a software engineer. Convincing others of this fact, particularly in a marketplace driven by price, is hard. Trying to convince a teenager he should spend more money on a premium unknown brand is hard. I made changes to add Drift to my website, so customers could talk to be directly, but only recently. I should have had that since the beginning. Furthermore, getting some validation from a tech or gaming website would be key, but I could not get any to respond to my requests. Its a bit tricky fighting established brands.
The other issue that came up was what my ultimate goal was. At first it was build premium simple computers at a fair price. But, so many people like building their own PCs for gaming. So, I thought I would provide like blue apron, curated DIY kits for people to build. As the idea matured, it looked more and more like pcpartpicker.com, a site that just lists anyone’s build online. Good ones get upvoted. While I still believe my builds are better than the flood of the options on there, how do I convince customers? And, is that really worth $100 or $200 to people? I asked both friends and strangers on reddit, and they said no.
So, the key problem, even if I established trust, the value of curated lists isn’t that high to my customers. If they get a computer list from pcpartpicker, even if its 80% as good as mine, but that list is free, they are fine with that. And there are many services to learn to build PCs online, so grabbing those Best Buy / Dell customers, is already being done by other competitors.
What did you Learn?
Building custom PCs is fun, but there’s not a lot of value in it. Differentiation is largely done by marketing, and a good brand has more value than actual good components. You can have a better product, but if it doesn’t solve a customers problem in dramatically better ways, they don’t care enough to pay for it.
I learned how to use shopify, and integrate with a chat platform (I used Drift). While Shopify makes it easy, it's expensive. In the future I hope to build my own site and use stripe for payments.
There might be ways to move forward, and that would be to aggressively advertise and spend more money on marketing. I would need 3rd party reviews and positive exposure to gain trust, but even then, PC curated lists value is low, and PC building margins are low. So, this would be spending a lot of capital I don’t have for benefits that are not that high. This is why I decided to abandon the project.
Finally, and more importantly, I learned I need to refine my ideas more before pursuing them. While parts of the idea were and are good, as indicated by traction, its ultimate value was not great enough to get customers to complete the sale. I need to think about that customer value more, rather than just “something cool” before pursuing future plans.