It’s hard to get a clear picture of how startups are doing because so much of success depends on perception and founders do anything they can to keep that perception up. For all the talk about failing and it’s value (something I don’t necessarily agree with), it’s rare to hear real stories from real entrepreneurs whose companies didn’t turn out exactly as they might have expected. 37 Signals has a nice wrap up of quotes from folks who had to shut down a product, service or company. Here’s a good one from the creator of Wesabe (a competitor to Mint):
Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that…I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that at all. Their approach completely kicked our approach’s ass.
The last year has been totally insane. Right around this time in 2010 I left my job at Barbarian Group and gave myself two weeks before getting started on building a company for the first time. To say building a company is different than building a product is an understatement for which I can’t find the appropriate analogy. It’s been crazy and amazing and scary.
Over the last twelve months we’ve started to build a brand I believe stands for something in the industry, created a product some of the best brands in the world pay for and built an amazing team that all came over to my apartment the other night for the first Percolate holiday dinner.
Last week we got through a big milestone and pushed our 2.0 release. Iterating is the thing everyone talks about when they discuss product development and that’s what we did: Looked at the data and built a better product for our core use case (brands publishing content across social channels and their .coms).
Yesterday we announced that along with that release we also raised a round of funding to support the Percolate mission of helping brands create content at social scale. On Tumblr someone asked why we raised money if we were profitable (this is our first round of investment) and the answer is simple: We feel like we’ve found a big opportunity for brands and we’re going to run at it hard. That means hiring good people to both help us build the product (designers, product people, developers) and also to help us bring the product to brands (sales, project management). (Obviously if you do any of those things and are interested in working with us hit me up.)
I think my favorite thing from this article about the crazy floating startup village is the nonchalance about about lasers and undersea internet cables: “A laser could be good, but is susceptible to fog, which is bad in the Bay Area. We’re considering running an undersea cable from ship to shore, but it may be be cost prohibitive. [Blueseed has received estimates of over a million dollars for just the installation, but is still researching permits.]”
Reminds me of my favorite Simpson’s joke ever. Homer and Bart are on a boat in international waters and in the distance is a boat with a big satellite dish. Homer turns to Bart and says, “See that ship over there? They’re re-broadcasting Major League Baseball with implied oral consent, not express written consent—or so the legend goes.”
I like this thought from Seth Godin on the problem with minimum viable product:
There’s a burst of energy and attention and effort that accompanies a launch, even a minimally viable one. If there’s a delay in pick up from the community, though (see #1) it’s easy to move on to the next thing, the next launch, the next hoopla, as opposed to doing the insanely hard work of sticking with that thing you already launched.
I have a bunch of issues with the conversation around lean and minimum viable product (probably the biggest of which is any ideology that people get religious about seems a bit scary). The biggest issue I have, though, is that it seems inherently about building products, not companies. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re building a little something on the side, but if you’re building a company you have a whole bunch of other things you need to also be thinking about, not the least of which is whether you’re building a product you’re excited about and a company you actually want to work at. I’ve never heard anyone mention either of these as part of the product development conversation and it makes me sad.
Via Ian Sohn
This is going to be a big problem for a lot of company who were planning on putting off business models indefinitely. A lot of young companies are going to have to make very difficult decisions next year even if the venture market only shifts slightly instead of drying up. We’re going to see a chasm emerge between products and businesses.