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Don't Build the next Facebook

By Varun posted June 04, 2012

Maybe I like things simple or maybe I’m just too naive to understand complex things.


As the most common breed of human beings now on the planet - A tech entrepreneur, I found myself not being able to come to terms with a few things. Always came across situations like these - Ohh.... why could not I think of that. It seems so simple. Or even worse- I thought of that, why did we not try it out, yet again.


What is it that I could not do? Make something users love. Make something which gets me like a gazzlion users in a few months. Where I’m the next big thing. Somewhere it’s a dream. Most of us might not admit it, but its there. The thought - Can we be the next Facebook or Quora or Pinterest or whatever there is now which allows you to share, connect, organize your life and see lots of photos. 


So I decided to get into the root cause (àla Eric Ries & Toyota), trying to answer it with the 5 Whys


Why cant’ we make something that is cool?

Each time we think of something which could be cool, we don’t up end up getting it off the block.


Why don’t we get it off the block?

Cos the team gets into a huddle on it, we all poke holes. We then google endlessly, looking for stuff which has been done similarly or is present in some form. Then we get confused, we discuss it for a few days and get on with the mundane. There is never a collective ‘this is it’.


Why do you need a collective ‘this is it’ to try something?

We are running a regular SaaS tech business. In fact just finding our feet. We are very young. Don’t have the time or the resources. A collective ‘this is it’ seems critical. I’m the co-founder. I don’t feel right if the team is not on board, does not believe in it. Also wary of upsetting the cash apple cart for now. I lose faith in the idea.


Why do you lose faith, is the idea not strong enough or you can’t marshall your resources?

I have a great team. They’ll breathe life into our ideas when the time comes. I think I’m not quite convinced with the idea. I keep thinking how will it make money? What if users don’t come for a long long time.


Why do you need to think about making money... nobody thinks that way these days?

Here is where I finally discover why we or rather I fail at building something cool. If I can’t think of a clear revenue model from the outset, the idea seems shaky. I can’t think ‘acquiring user base’ and then figuring out what to do. Somewhere deep down, maybe an archaic, old school business brain lurks, which cannot comprehend this new way of building a business. In fact at some levels it even seems frivolous, contrived and fake - ‘Let’s make something cool’. What does that even mean, anyway?


So, as this truth comes out in the open, I realize a few things

- Most cool things just happen

- An aim to build the next Facebook or Instagram is risky

- You are better off building a good product that a few people use regularly, rather than hoping for world domination

- A clear revenue model business might not be the ‘in thing’ but its not a bad thing.

- At the end of the day, how many businesses can continue to sell only eyeballs. The number of eyeballs is not increasing as rapidly as the avenues which now divide them.

- As I justified to myself what the uncool people like me were doing, I explored further.


I did not do much research. I just checked the products that my team and me regularly use or at least have signed up for:

Facebook

Google+

Pinterest

Quora

Instagram

Foursquare

Linkedin

Twitter

Path

Reddit

These were top of mind. And some other interesting stuff we love to spend our time on.

Most of these above are worth a few millions if not billions. 


Everyone above will basically make most of their money from selling eyeballs and links that get clicked. Most of these above have not lived up to their revenue potential. 


This eyeballs and links business seems dangerous now. Users are extremely difficult to get and even if you do get them, they are likely to desert you.


My naiveté could actually be construed as logic or sour grapes. The task seems much simpler if you attempt to build a business where your customers pay you. If not all of them at least a part of them who really value your product and services. 


Being the rage cannot be the goal. The ones who did become a rage did not actually plan on becoming a rage. Keep your business small and simple. Get some visibility into your revenues. Do not leave it for later.


Your moment in the sun could just happen somewhere along the way, until then do the mundane well - at least, you are assured of a moment in the spotlight.


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