I’ve been wondering about the way many of the new startups in Silicon Valley (and other parts of the world) seem to be executing the same roll out scheme. A typical startup probably writes code, creates a Beta for invites only (wasn’t that just called an alpha version in the pre-web 2.0 days?), then gets into contact with all A-list tech bloggers that matter using some PR agency to get the buzz going. With any luck a few will actually write about the startup and their service which will lead to a spike in visitors count. And after that? Silence.
I’m guessing that well over 50% doesn’t even make the first round of A-list bloggers, but the ones that do are pretty soon forgotten again. Life goes on. The tech community moves on another bandwagon and the startup is left to try and keep this attention cycle going.
In my opinion this is pretty much a fail scenario. The startup fails because it went to build a cool tech solution for a problem that didn’t really exist. They get a gang of early adapters on their service which gives them the attention they think they need. It leads to traffic and usage spikes that gives everyone a feeling they’re on a roll. It leads to service improvements to fit the needs of the savvy social media early adapter and pretty soon the new service not only solves a problem that didn’t exist, but it comes with a ton of extra cool features no one was really waiting for.
This is fine if your market is the tech early adopter crowd. You can make an honest living doing just that. But that’s obviously not the case for most startups. They want to rule the world, just like Google or Facebook did before them.
What happens next is predictable. The startup gets caught in what I referred earlier to as the Silicon Valley Vacuum. The startup gets trapped within the boundaries of that vacuum, boundaries set by eager investors who demand more success after the initial tech hype, and a useless service optimized for one type of early adopter that only exists within this vacuum. Moore calls this crossing the chasm, I feel it’s in most cases a recipe for disaster. When I wrote abut this vacuum, Robert Scoble replied with a post called Early Adopter Angst. His main point was that you will always need early adopters. True enough, I believe that too, but my point is that the early adopter you really need just isn’t isn’t always located in Silicon Valley.
The temptations for such a scenario are high. You get to be a start (for a day), attention from all the major tech blogs, the A-list blogging crowd, and with a bit of luck even your first 25-50K users.
Do you see the problem with this scenario? There isn’t a single mainstream user problem or value being addressed. It is the path of the quick win, the easy fix. The Silicon Valley approach comes with a pre-defined recipe, no need to think. It’s a shortcut to success and getting out there.
Unfortunately Silicon Valley isn’t the end goal for most startups. By taking the shortcut they deprive themselves from the hard work and thinking that is needed to enter any mainstream market. It isn’t difficult to get this industry to pay attention to a cool new tech service, as it is precisely what this industry gets paid to do. But it provides you with a false sense of security. What is really difficult is to understand the mainstream market you are trying to address and to convince your mainstream target users to give your service a try. These are your true early adopters.
You are better off with early adopters that aren’t asking for cool new features, but instead tell you about their experience to try and integrate your service into their daily patterns. Going mainstream or crossing the chasm isn’t about the best set of features, it’s about providing the user value, as simple as possible.
There are no shortcuts, there isn’t an oiled PR machine that will get you there. The web might have brought us technology that makes it dead simple to start a new company. But being an great entrepreneur hasn’t become any easier just because there is all this cool technology. It’s hard work and a whole lot of luck that gets you there in the end. And in my opinion it is best to stay far away from Silicon Valley and the tech early adopters. For the first round, go to your mainstream audience and get yourself some early adopters there. They are much harder to find, less tech savvy, but they are out there. Develop the service with them and then you can always visit Silicon Valley and claim victory after you have created a service that mainstream users actually want. It might sound crazy to do, it might take longer than expected, but it’s a better strategy in the long run. Maybe that’s what makes Meeboo the most underhyped Silicon Valley Success according to Robert Scoble.
Early adopters can make or break a new service. I guess it comes down to finding the right early adopters to be successful. Be careful for the early adopters in Silicon Valley. They may be the easy way to failure.