What every start-up can learn from an empty bar in Antwerp


Since a couple of months a new bar opened up behind our office in Antwerp. In essence this a startup, a new venture in the restaurant business. Unfortunately seats remain empty. There is no lack of entrepreneurship though. Almost every day I see the barkeeper/owner trying new things to change the tide… but without success. Many startups (regardless of the industry) make the same mistakes. Let me give you an overview and what to learn from this:

1. Have a clear focus: what business are you in

Similar to many tech startups this business faces numerous competitors. Within a 5 min walk I guess this bar has 100+ direct alternatives. Already on the facade of this place it becomes clear that they have no clear USP. It’s a cafe, lounge, and bar. Different messages on the wall try to promote breakfast (coffee bar?), sandwiches (bistro?), and pizza (pizzeria?). The lights and music used in the evening communicate a different message: this is for dancing!

Example: From Wunderlist to Wunderkit (and back)

Many startups fail at communicating what they have to offer to their clients. Would you dance in a pizzeria? Grab a sandwich on the go in a pub? Many tech startups often struggle with their own identity. Remember Wunderlist (the awesome todo app) who wrongfully believed they were a social network? When they launched Wunderkit you could follow friends and build profiles. This made no sense at all. They stopped doing this, and went back where they started with. Smart!

2. Run marketing experiments but know who to target

The billboard outside this bar changes almost daily. New message = new experiment; but 90% of the time the message is far of. One example: One day they had an overview with 20ct discounts for different drinks for every day of the week. Good, but not considering 80% of the people that are passing are tourists: they are not really planning what to drink in 4 days from now. This communication could work in the student area, but not near the historical centre of the city. Wrong audience, wrong message.

The other day they tried to sell hot coffee + liquor for 5 euro. I don’t know if this price is a bargain, but I do know that this is not the key message you want to communicate at your terrace when it is a burning 30 degrees outside.

Example: Selling our Business Model Kits via the wrong channels

One day someone worked on a future marketing campaign to promote our brainstorm tool at Behance.net. While our tool has a visual & creative approach this platform is not where our target group will be. Yes, Behance is the go-to place for creatives to show off their visual projects, but Strategy directors, innovation managers or creativity trainers are not expected to have profiles there. We didn’t launch the campaign.

3. Be professional at all times; being a startup is no excuse

The bar around the corner makes small posters to communicate new offerings. But don’t expect anything close to fabulous. A white sheet of paper, a black marker, and one spare minute are the only resources used. I don’t believe any passers-by will be triggered to try a pizza (!) in this pub. This type of low quality communication will do more harm than good.

Example: Launch pages can be minimal - but should be stunning

Similar to this new bar a digital startup only has a couple of seconds to convince a visitor. As a startup your first contact with a potential new client can be a launch page. Not being a designer should not be an excuse to create a lemonade-stand like online presence. Dull stock images and clipart will not create trust. Use tools like Strikingly and Breezi to create solid looking front-ends of your new venture. Perception is everything. Remember: You can save on coffee but not on design.

It's not because you exist, clients will come

Remember that. It is always hard work and competition is fierce. Still I hope that with all these experiments this bar will find its focus. There must be Belgians or international tourists out there that like beer, right?


I’m Nick De Mey, founder Board of Innovation and foresight analyst at Venturesight – foresight-backed venture design. Let’s talk!

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