One key to launching a successful business is finding the right problem to solve. That's why so many entrepreneurs are inspired by problems they encounter themselves or that stymie their family and friends.
The trick is not confusing an anecdote for a trend.
For example, consider Ramin Bastani, founder and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Qpid.me. The company's website is designed to help people deal with one of life's great mysteries: namely, is it safe to have sex with someone I just met in a bar?
Of course, the answer to that question might seem like an obvious "no." Bastani, however, thinks there's an unmet demand for a service that lets people share the results of the tests they've taken for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the vaccinations they've received. It's one thing to say "Hey, I'm clean!" But it's much more credible to back that up with some recent lab reports.
That's the theory, at least.
In a video on Qpid.me, Bastani talks about the incident that inspired him to create the site -- the day (or rather, the night) he discovered a problem worth solving. A few years ago, just after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, he went to an undisclosed bar in Los Angeles and met a woman he liked immediately. Sparks flew, and eventually they found themselves back at his place making a beeline for the bedroom. But Bastani said he hesitated, which prompted the woman to ask whether he had an STD. "I was, like, 'No, I'm just afraid that you might.' So she smacked me in the face," Bastani recounted. She left with no further ado, but the seed of a business plan had been planted.
Qpid.me's service is free and seems straightforward. After registering and having their identity verified, users fill out an online form requesting records from the doctor's office or testing site where they were checked for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and Hepatitis C, or where they received vaccines for the Human papillomavirus (HPV) or Hepatitis A. The form directs that the records be sent digitally to the user's Qpid.me account, where the company promises to hold them in confidence. After the records have been collected, users can text or email the results to whomever they wish. Otherwise, they can't be examined or found via a search engine, the company says.
On Thursday -- Valentine's Day -- Qpid.me added another wrinkle to its site: a map showing STD testing centers in Los Angeles, along with some helpful information about them (e.g., hours of operation and a link to Yelp reviews). There are plenty of them, as it turns out, although many are at public high schools.
That makes sense from a public-policy standpoint, considering that a) nearly half of all high school students say they've had sex, and b) teens and young adults are expected to account for half of the sexually transmitted infections in the United States. By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's reckoning, that's nearly 10 million infections each year among 15- to 24-year-olds.
It's not clear how Bastani plans to make money off of Qpid.me, which has no advertising and says it won't charge a fee for any of the services it offers today. (The company's publicist didn't respond to a request for comment on that point.) There's also the obvious problem that Qpid.me users who don't practice safe sex may quickly invalidate the results of the test scores they store on the site.
Which gets back to the problem Bastani is trying to solve. Qpid.me is designed to eliminate the kind of buzz-killing conversation that Bastani had that night a few years back. But even if each woman he dated had a Qpid.me account, he couldn't satisfy his curiosity about her health without asking a question or two that implies some awkward suspicions or doubts. I mean, simply offering to send someone your Qpid.me results implies that you'd like to see his or her test results too. And then what do you do if the results are a year old?
At the end of the day, as with all things in a relationship, it comes down to trust. Qpid.me tries to make it easier for you to earn the trust of others, but it doesn't necessarily help you trust them back.