So you've decided to build a new Web 2.0 solution/company and you want to attract millions of new users and possibly some funding?
Here are some things to consider...
Many times people build products or services around solutions that don't have a problem associated with them. Then, the company has to create the "problem" and convince you that you really need it. Often people don't think about this...and it isn't exclusive to online companies. Even if something has kitsch qualities, you need to ask yourself, "Am I building something that creates value?" Twitter may be a seemingly silly waste of time to some, but people get something satisfying out of it. Even the silliest widget will fail if it doesn't feed some need that people have.
2. Ask Smarter People
Find a few mentors who have been in the startup game before. Get advice from multiple people about the same topics to see how different people would handle similar situations. You'll find that most startup people love to tell their stories and share battle scars. Before you make any major decisions or launch something, getting good advice from serial entrepreneurs is a positive thing.
And don't just go to people who have been wildly successful. Sometimes the best advice comes from people who had spectacular failures.
3. No Fear of Giants
Just because there are seemingly unbeatable companies out there like MySpace, don't think that there isn't room for something better. The history of tech is filled with stories of giants tumbled by a combination of their own hubris...and some clever and fast upstart. MySpace seems unstoppable now, but that won't last forever.
4. Get Paid
At the end of the day, you have to have some plan to get paid. A lot of startups just have the "survive to acquisition" strategy. Well good luck on that...but in the meantime, you might want to figure out how you are going to make money before you build your solution and also not be afraid to change this strategy either. Many companies think the money is in one direction, but they find it somewhere else as they grow.
And keep in mind...just having a large user base does not make you an acquisition target. There are a lot of web properties with a very respectable sized base...and yet many of them close their doors every day because they run out of money.
Building the Solution
1. Platform Agnostic or multi-platform support
Don't forget the rest of us! Whether that is Mac or Windows, ignoring a platform can be a big mistake. What likely happens is that companies tend to ignore the smaller platforms, like the Mac. Those platforms can be instrumental in breaking out a product. And no group of users are more vocal and obnoxious about this than Mac users...I'm one of them. When Netflix launched their online download service...what was the number one complaint about it that you heard everywhere? No support for Mac.
But the biggest abuse of this (with no excuse) is building for only one particular browser or media player, like Microsoft's IE. Even if I weren't on a Mac I wouldn't use IE...I use Firefox.
2. Works Intuitively
One problem with "browser-based" apps is that they have to run in a browser. I'm working in one now...and it is painful. If you build an application that runs within a browser window, you have to think creatively about your UI and ensure that it is easy to perform the tasks as hand. Gmail, Wufoo, and Confluence are all examples of web-based applications I use every day that work as they should, are responsive, and intuitive.
3. Avoid Perpetual Beta
I like solutions that know where they are going, and get there. Period. It was a clever little marketing ploy using the "beta" phrase once upon a time...now it is just annoying.
1. Watch the Hype
If you believe your technology will change the world...you might want to keep that on the inside. I've been working with startups for 15 years and I can't tell you how many times I've heard "this will change the world!" And yet, I've only really seen it happen a few times. A little humility goes a long way. Build a good solution and let other people talk about how great it is.
I advise avoiding things like this.
3. Go to Events
Find events in your area where Web 2.0 folks get together to socialize. If there aren't any, start one. Networking is a valuable way of hooking up with potential partners or getting that business card from some VP who eventually is instrumental in acquiring your company or signing a deal. The more face time you get with people who are connected, the more connected you become.
I don't think everyone should have a blog, but if you are trying to become a thought leader in your space, nothing is more helpful than having a body of written work that can be cited to show your knowledge and experience. Blogging gives you that opportunity, and also is an excellent creative tool that keeps your mind sharp.
However, blogging can also be a major time suck, so be sure to plan your blogging time wisely.
5. Don't Pre-Announce
I beg you...don't pre-announce your non-launched product.
When I give presentations on marketing, one of the topics I talk about is something I call Attention Capital. Just like Venture Capital, when you are looking to raise attention for your company or solution, you have to decide your acceptable burn rate of attention. If you are a video game maker or movie studio, you might want a ton of initial buzz, because sales will likely curb after the initial launch. If you are a web services company, you want to have a steady and sustainable build. If you burn out attention and interest too soon by using stunts and whatnot, people will turn off and move on to the next thing.
I won't name names, but I worked for a company awhile ago and during that time there was an exodus of a founder who left in a huge public display of martyrdom. And he deserved the public sympathy. He got the shaft. But after a while of promising a new company and a new product...milking public attention...and missing promised launch after launch...he's largely MIA a year later. Now I could care less.
I say go "coma quiet" until you are ready to launch something. Pre-buzz does nothing but spend your attention capital too soon...and if your launch is a bit lacluster or has problems, you only annoy people who you got excited in the first place.
Part 2 Coming Soon...