Following the leaders is a great way to be a follower. But the fifty-first YouTube is nobody, and the sixty-third MySpace is nothing.
What does that mean in terms of a start-up’s goals?
Question: traffic & monetization
You start a wonderful new web start-up. Is traffic what it’s all about? Will everything magically work if you get traffic? And if you get traffic, will it automatically be monetizable?
Question: usefulness & critical mass
You start a wonderful new web start-up. But is it wonderful when you’re the only one there, or is it only wonderful if thousands of people are using it? Of course, you eventually want millions. And you know it’ll be great if only you can get over that hump – the first few thousand users. But what about at the beginning?
Thinking out loud: a start-up cheat sheet
What are you going to focus on when building the start-up so that you solve the traffic issue, the monetization issue, and the critical mass of users issue?
This is a personal question for me as I’m doing my own start-up right now, and here are some of my personal thoughts. I’m almost certainly missing some, and would appreciate any tips/hints/additions/suggestions that any readers might have.
Start with a remarkable idea. If it’s not whoa-that’s-cool (to at least someone, or some group of someones) forget it. Find another idea. Why? Your success depends on attracting attention (a necessary but insufficient condition). If it won’t, you’re sunk.
Start with an explainable-in-15-seconds idea. You need to grab attention, as just mentioned, but if you can’t maintain attention, you’re also sunk. Complexity is the enemy of attention.
- Real, tangible value
Promise and deliver real value right away for user #1. User #1 is not going to join your social-network-web-2.0-music-sharing-video-trading-revolutionary-unique blahblahblah if it’s only cool when millions of people are doing it. Some people/stars/companies can start something like that and because of their cachet/history/brilliance make it an instant success. You’re not like that.
- Network effects
Build in network effects so that your site/tool/service delivers more and more value as more and more people use it. Social bookmarking sites are a prime example … anything where you can aggregate, analyze, and report on user behavior that is interesting and significant to each individual user.
The word “viral” is over-used and under-delivered on, but the key point is: make your product easy to spread. More importantly, make people want to spread it. This is related to but not the same as Network effects.
- Focus on the user
Assuming all the stars aligned and the angels sang and you did the right thing … don’t stop doing the right things when you do start to grow or get big.
I think the biggest problem with web start-ups is wanting the fruit without understanding how to plant, water, and weed.
In other words, people build things that would be great if a million others were using them, but forget that before a million comes a thousand. If it doesn’t work for the first thousand, you’re either never going to grow to a million, or you’re going to have to spend money like water to incentivize people to do what they naturally would not.
In the first case you’ll die, and in the second you’ll burn through much more money than you want to, probably still die, and only possibly, potentially, hopefully make it to the promised land of critical mass and catalyzed reactions and … success.
My best guesstimation right now is that by following these cheat sheet guidelines I’ll maximize my chance for success … and so will you!