I’m working on The Startup Success Guide for Apress presently, and as I go along, I’m going to be doing short posts like this when something or someone really grabs my attention. Not sure how this will work out – I guess we’ll find out.
Why the reporter’s notebook image? In a lot of ways, I feel more like a reporter covering a really hot, exciting story than somebody trying write a guide.
Interviewed today Tony Wright, CEO of RescueTime for SSG. A couple of points stood out. Building something only a few people wanted really badly – “ready to bite off their leg to get one” in Tony’s words – is a much better strategy than being “good” and “somewhat interesting” to a huge diffuse market.
The reason? Because then your next problem is finding more people like your current initial customer base. That’s a lot easier a problem than finding some unknown way to improve/change your product to get people to buy it.
The second point was just how critical to RescueTime’s success so far was the decision to make a product that surprises people. This surprise factor – both what RescueTime tells you about your time usage, and what it says in anonymous aggregate (not a pretty picture) – makes people do a doubletake.
It got Tony’s startup noticed by TechCrunch before it was a full fledged app, it got him attention by the New York Times because his aggregate data was enough to build a story. Each of these things happened because Tony used the surprise as a way to make the idea of RescueTime stick. (Tony recommended several times “Make it Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. Having read it – and now I’m going to re-read it – so do I.)
Everything that’s followed – much more media attention and now $900 K in Series A funding for the 7 person startup – followed flowed from that.
Being just remarkable doesn’t cut it anymore, not as my second interviewee today, Don Dodge, said. Today it costs a lot less to build a startup than ever before, but you have a lot more noise you have to cut through with about 5,000 new startups a year. (Don works for Microsoft, and they pay a lot of money to nail down data like this.)
Key points: 1) Building an app a few people love is much better than trying to please everybody, 2) Design jaw-dropping remarkablility and surprise into your application from the start so you can cut through the noise.
(Disclosure: In 2008, I consulted with Tony on various startup-related matters.)