The topic for each day’s blog post comes about in myriad ways. Today’s topic seemed to drop right into my lap from whoever’s up there. To the big guy up there: THANKS! Always appreciate some help on inspiration.
I was reading an Ars Technica article about how Winamp’s growth was stunted after the AOL takeover. People my age might remember Winamp fondly, that nifty little PC MP3 player that in my mind, was The Player (even to this day), and so very lightweight in its memory consumption and install size. I had always wondered about the gradual decline of Winamp’s popularity, and this article certainly threw a few interesting points into play.
In a word: read.
The read progressed into a Gizmodo article on how Flickr similarly fell short of the social wave after Yahoo’s acquisition. Another brilliant read, made me remember the times when I used to be a Flickr fan, and an understanding how and why I drew away from Flickr.
In both stories, there are common grounds to be found.
1. Corporate control
The strong corporate culture from the parent company seeped into the startup, and gradually imposed controls which stifled the startup’s growth. IMO, startups begun with creativity and minimal control should be kept that way. Some things function well with supervision, others not so. It is just a shame to see brilliant companies with so much potential fall into the meandering average, or worse derailed into oblivion.
Winamp, like Flickr is a product. Products should always be on the lookout to improve and mature, to stay ahead of the curve and grow with the users. A lack of resources and direction given to innovating the products basically killed momentum for growth.
3. The path of least resistance
Users are fickle, people like you and I can certainly attest to that. We want to use something that is fun, easy and effortless. Something that involves everyone, something that is cool and makes us go wow, now that – is really awesome. If a product gets stale, jumping off the bandwagon is easily done. Especially in this day of the web application, we look upon ease of use as an all-important yardstick more than ever.
Compare the effort taken to compile a neat little album on Flickr, upload those pretty pictures and share it with your friends. Now think about how easy it is to upload your pictures on Facebook, tag your friends and share it on your timeline. Granted Flickr caters to a more specific audience market these days, but.
The answer my friends, should be obvious.
It would not have seemed like serendipity, had it only been a random read on two articles. A good friend of many years came on for a Skype chat and sought my opinion on an idea he just had on a social networking startup. Really humbled and appreciative of the fact that he values my counsel, and I did my best to bring a different perspective across to him. All in all, three main points:
1. Passion in hiring
He was debating outsourced versus inhouse, and to me the answer was obvious. He needed to get someone who was in for the passion, for the fun of the idea. Someone young enough at heart to find joy in building something that people would like and want to use, not someone who’s in it just for steady work and a stable paycheck. Past reads from Jobs and Wozniak’s biographies hinted at the same, that a talented individual is worth ten average hires. And that, to me is passion. You need to have a steady hand aboard for the long haul, not a random hire off the docks for a single journey.
And of course, there is the issue of control. Getting an external vendor without proper exclusivity agreements offers a potential leak on the platform to other parties, which could really be fatal for a startup.
2. Counting the cents
To many business people, calculating the potential of profit is important. I would not deny the fact that it does pay the bills, but sometimes a startup kicks off on a wild and crazy idea, and that is all it is. It wouldn’t be the same way if a bunch of people dissected it, looked at it ten thousand ways before agreeing in corporate groupthink that it is a genuine Good Idea. Startups are meant to be lean, fast-moving and more often than not, the follow-through of an Eureka! moment. Run with the idea, and worry about what happens later.
3. Staying focused
There was talk on the emergence of the smartphone app as a means to user interaction, and whether there should be balance on development on the various mobile OSes (IOS, Android, Windows Mobile and others) and the desktop experience. I voted for focus over diversification, pitching it with a single point – an excellent user experience in one platform trumps average user experiences in multiple platforms. Look at Instagram, it began as an iPhone app. It certainly did not care about branching too quickly, but rather focused on the execution of a great user experience in the IOS environment – the ability to snap pictures on a mobile, add snazzy filters and share them.
It’s the UX that defines the app, nothing else.
Summing things up, I would say that passion and focus are essential ingredients to a great startup; can’t live without them that’s for sure. Passion for your product, and focus on making a great product out of a wonderful idea.
After all, life without passion tends to be quite bland, is it not?