Yay Path 101 Competition! 5 Ways Yahoo! will mess up Kickstart

I was excited to see that Yahoo! thinks there's an opportunity in the college career space.  They're supposedly creating a new social network called Kickstart.  From the Path 101 perspective, I say, "Bring it."

Man, I can't wait to see this. 

So, when's the last time a big media giant created a really successful social platform from scratch?

[crickets]

It seems like we're not even sure if this is just vaporware, but even if it isn't, I'd say there are at least five things that Yahoo! is inevitably going to trip up on.

  1. Hell hath no fury like a media company scorned by a social network.   They couldn't buy Facebook, so they decided to make their own.  But, they needed an angle.  What do college students what?  A social network about beer?  Nope... they're underage.  Sex?  No, can't do that, not that it wouldn't be successful.  Ah!  Jobs!  Yes, jobs!  It seems like Yahoo! is starting out with the idea that what they're
    building must be a social network, without really considering whether
    or not the social network approach makes the most sense.  This is just bad product development.  You don't walk into a problem and say, "Whatever the opportunity is in this space, we're going to solve it with a social network... and a hammer."  I actually tend to think that social connecting/friending isn't what students really need... it's content, direction, guidance, tools...  Just connecting is like handing students a business card.  They don't have any clue what to do with that connection and how to get the most of it, let alone even know who to connect with in the first place.
  2. Play well with others?  Ha!  Let's see...  34 million Facebook users.  14 million LinkedIn users.  Let's build our own thing and not plug in to the vast networks of existing students and professionals already out there and start completely from scratch because we want to own this category.  If you can't bridge the gap to your customers by meeting them in the places they already are, then don't expect them to come to you.
  3. It's going to be all about jobs and companies.  Yahoo! knows how to sell stuff, like jobs and ads.  So, they're going to build something that is going to be immediately monetizable, meaning its going to be all about companies, jobs, etc.  There are two problems with that.  What about companies that aren't on there?  What if I don't want to work for some big corporation that can afford to pay Yahoo! to have a presence on Kickstart?  Is this going to be a place where art students are going to find jobs?  What about drama majors and people looking to work in the non-profit fields?  Doctors?  What about grad school?  Or, most importantly, what if I don't have a clue what I want to be?  What then?  Am I likely to join a social network based around job recruiting if I'm "undecided"?  I highly doubt you'll see any freshmen or sophomores on this site because they haven't chosen a field of interest yet and probably aren't sure where to go.  That's the real problem that needs solving... helping them figure out where they want to direct themselves, not connecting kids who already know what company they want to work for (which is how many of them anyway?)  Here's the other thing.  Because of their HotJobs affiliation, is Yahoo! ever going to tell a student that the best way to get a job is through networking?  What they're doing isn't real networking.  It's putting a social network around a job posting.  There's no way Yahoo! will eat its own lunch and totally disrupt the jobs space.  They'll find a way to perpetuate the old business model of charging for posted jobs at a few hundred bucks a pop.  In a pure socially networked world, there wouldn't be that kind of opportunity to extract so much value, because the right opportunities would fall into the right laps all the time in a seemless, barrierless way.
  4. Professionals: Sign up and get spammed by students desperate for jobs. If I'm a professional working at a company, exactly what is my motivation to sign up for a social network based around getting college kids jobs?  If I put a profile up and people can contact me, aren't I opening myself up to just getting spammed with resumes?  The service has to work for everyone involved and if all these college kids can only find their way to a company by connecting to someone who works there, the last thing I'd want to be is the first Google employee who puts a profile up--especially since the atmosphere here is all about jobs.  Professionals love giving advice and helping students away from the recruiting process and such relationships are best built over time.  If the whole thing is just focused on jobs, its going to have the feel of one of those really bad "networking mixers".
  5. Their customer is the company.  One of the advantage that startups have over bigger companies is that they can spend a little time purely focused on value to the end user first before figuring out who their customers are.  Take Indeed.  Indeed could never have gone to job boards day one and said, "We'll crawl all of you, and then you pay us to sponsor your listings and get them to appear in the sidebar results."  However, after they proved to be a very compelling consumer service with growing traction, job boards realized the value, especially the smaller ones, and got on board with what they were doing.  When you are a big media company, you don't exactly take risks with your clients, but where that leaves you is lacking in the end user value.  I mean, would YouTube have become so big if they didn't start out with all sorts of illegal clips?  Students want real insider content...  and real discussion.  Do you think any of these students are going to get into a discussion on the Nike page of whether or not they'd actually like to work for Nike given their history of human rights violations?  Have they cleaned up their act?  Is this a place I want to work?  I wouldn't ask with the recruiter sitting right there in my network, that's for sure.

Look, Alex and I haven't built anything yet and the proof is in the pudding, but seeing these kinds of attempts just gives me that much more confidence that we have the right approach with Path 101 and will succeed.  I've been in the classroom with students talking with them not as a corporate focus group, but as a teacher, mentor, recruiter, etc...   not asking them, "Hey, if we built this, would you sign up for it" but discussing their real struggles.  They don't know where to start and this isn't it.  Not only do they not have a network, but they don't know what to do with a network once they have it.  They don't know how to e-mail a professional.  The services that are out there don't attempt to tackle the hardest but most compelling problem in the career development space...  how to get students figuring out for themselves where they belong and pursuing those paths.  Just throwing a bunch of jobs and companies at them is window dressing and not going to really help them figure much out.  If anything, it just perpetuates the problem that most students think their only options are to become bankers and lawyers or work for big companies, because that's who they see recruiting.  Path 101 will get them talking, exploring, using tools, very much the same way TheKnot.com not only helps you find flowers for your wedding, but helps you actually think about what kind of a wedding it is you want to have in the first place.  After that, flowers are the easy part.