I'm a big fan of entrepreneurship in almost all forms. As long as the new venture isn't obviously cruel or dangerous, I'm probably going to be excited for just about any founder -- or even just anyone with a crazy idea.
I'll bet you feel the same way.
But then we come to Cangoroo, a startup Swedish company that is really part of a marketing firm. They're getting a surprising amount of press after announcing that they supposedly plan to deploy dockless, on-demand pogo sticks to cities around the world.
Right, pogo sticks. Like Bird or its competitors, only pogo sticks.
'We feel the need to underline...'
Like you're going to download an app and pick up a pogo stick off the ground somewhere, and use it to bounce around a major city.
And yet, pepole seem to be reacting with bemusement -- but nevertheless taking Cangoroo at its word that it's not all a bizarre joke -- like here and here. (Or this one from the local television news in San Francisco.)
In its amended press release, the company does nearly admit that pogo sticks are really just an attention-getting device to draw attention to future projects, while still insisting that the whole thing is "100% real."
With a lot of initial questions along the line of "is this for real?", we feel the need to underline that Cangoroo is 100% real. Our choice of shared pogo sticks as our first product is a planned out strategy in order to stand out in today's media landscape and build an engaging brand in the generic "last mile transportation" category.
That the team behind Cangoroo is also running a communications agency, we see as an important competitive benefit for the future of the business rather than something we try to hide from stakeholders.
'this has to be a joke, right?'
I emailed the founders twice, and I was quite upfront about my skepticsm.
i write for inc.com.
this has to be a joke, right?
if not, please let me know all you can -- genesis, funding, etc.
but i can't imagine this is serious... how many people can even ride a pogo stick anyway?
Maybe it was my lack of capital letters, but I never heard back, so I can't quote them directly beyond their press release. (Update: Cangoroo did reply after my second, follow-up email, but their response went to spam. I'm including what they had to say below at the end of this article.)
Thus, let's just count a few of the reasons this is a patently silly idea:
- Pogo sticks are a wildly inefficient means of transportation.
- Most adults haven't ridden one since they were kids (if ever).
- They're cheap and compact to begin with, so there's no reason to rent one as opposed to buying one.
- Oh, and one of the cities where they say they plan to launch, hilly San Francisco, would seem especially ill-suited.
I can't go on. Seriously, I felt my IQ slipping a hundredth of a point with each bullet point, just for playing along as if this were real, serious idea.
'10, 15 or 20'
The only possible saving grace I can find is that one of the founders said their initial goal is laughably low volume: deploying just "10, 15, [or] 20" pogo sticks to start, then hoping to get up to 100, in Malmo and Stockholm, Sweden.
Such small aspirations. I can imagine a group of college kids quickly scouring Craigslist and dumping a pile of a dozen pogo sticks on the ground in New York, just so they can say they beat Cangoroo to market.
Heck, I grew up with four younger brothers and sisters. At times, we had that many pogo sticks, bikes, scooters, and Big Wheels crammed on the floor or our family's garage.
If only we'd known we had a startup! We could have gotten worldwide press!
Is it all just mockery?
I guess that's what bothers me so much at the end about this. It's not just that it's something that so clearly should be a joke if it isn't.
Or that the founders have managed go get so much barely critical coverage out of something that seems like just a publicity stunt for their other, future, as yet unnamed ideas.
It's not just that if this is really just a hoax, the founders are nevertheless insisting it's real in the face of massive skepticism (even according to their own press release).
And it's not even just that something this silly sucks up so much oxygen, when I see so many truly good founders with interesting ideas, starving for attention and investment.
It's that after more than a decade of writing about entrepreneurship, I finally found the single startup story that made me feel a little bit jaded about startups--like it all ads up to just a mockery of everyone else.
And I can't imagine I'm the only one.
As mentioned, Cangoroo's founder Adam Mikkelsen replied, but his response went to spam so it was not included in this article when published. His message was consistent with the press release quoted above:
"[W]e are indeed serious- the pogo stick is not planned to be our only product and are also meant to be a branding driver that gives us room to build an engaging brand in the Category which will allow us to gain market shares and build a stronger brand loyalty than existing competitors."