A couple weeks ago, I wrote up several things to keep in mind when you’re dreaming of your next (or first) Internet startup. Now’s here’s the other side of the story. Here are things you might find yourself saying or find your co-founder/best-bud saying during your fantastical dreaming. If you do, stop, back up, and try again.
- “I just found out that Apple/Google/NewShinyStartup.com is already doing that; we can’t do that.”
Everyone in the valley says this so often, it’s completely trite, but it still catches people all the time: ideas are pretty much worthless. It doesn’t matter if someone else has already done it or is about to do it; if you think you can do it better, it’s still a good idea.And doing something better doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is better. You just have to believe that you can beat the competition in one business dimension: product (Apple), price (Walmart), marketing (Coca Cola), service (Zappos), etc. If you can beat the competition in a business dimension that matters for your chosen product/service, then you’ve got something.Then there’s the flip side to this…
- “NewShinyStartup.com and AnotherStartup.com are doing something like this. This validates the space.”
Startups are a dime a dozen; they’re falling out of trees, coming up from storm drains, like zombies that you can’t shoot in the head. And like zombies, they take up all available space, even it doesn’t make any sense. You don’t need me to rattle off hot-to-trot startups that claimed to find a new market only to run out of money in months.You need to do enough research to believe that your market exists and is big. That research might include other competitors in the space, but that is only one factor. Those competitors may be on to something or just may be smoking something…
- “We’ve come up with this cool new technology/design/product that does ____.”
This one’s a bit tricky because that statement sounds pretty good on its own. That is, until you realize that you haven’t said that your market actually needs or wants to do _____. This is the trap of coming up with a solution that’s looking for a problem, and many, many, many companies with really smart designers/engineers/business people failed here.Remember all of those browsers that showed your search results in a mind map you could fly through? Cool demo, didn’t solve a problem. And my latest predictions on failure on this one? Latest Techcrunch Disrupt winner Shaker. But I could be totally wrong: I didn’t think Twitter solved any problems either.
- “You know what (insert major product/service here) needs? A better way to do ____.”
This one’s also tricky, because what you may have discovered is an opportunity to disrupt a major player. Or you may have discovered a missing feature, not a product. It’s happened so many times: a better way to organize your contacts, absorbed into your email service; a better way to backup your computer, absorbed into your OS.My latest prediction on failure here? Lytro. Very cool, but are you going to buy a camera from an otherwise unknown camera maker because of it?
- “Our product will post to the user’s wall/tweet something out on the user’s Twitter account every time they finish a task and then all their friends will try it!”
Just read that again. Now with feeling. Realize how silly it sounds. Move on.
- “We just have to get the product right, and it’ll take off!”
A lot of companies, big and small, have somehow developed a build-it-and-they-will-come attitude. Homestead had a lot of that problem early on. I saw many examples of that at Intuit. We want to be product companies, and we want to believe that in the end, the best product (design and technology) wins.This thinking often sneaks up on you because you don’t think you’re that naive. But watch out for signs: if your growth plan is based mostly on word-of-mouth, you might be headed for trouble. If you’re focusing almost all your energy on net promoter scores and user surveys, you may not grow at all.So come up with a launch plan and a growth plan. And, please, “marketing” isn’t a bad word. And that’s coming from a CTO.
- “We’ve got a patent on it.”
Can you tell I have issues with patents?