I finally had a chance to listen to Merlin Mann’s and John Gruber’s excellent presentation at SXSW from 2009 called Obsession Times Voice. Their thesis is that a deep knowledge on a specific topic gives you a unique voice and ability to attract like-minded people. The presentation was aimed at bloggers but I found the advice very pertinent to start-up software companies as well. A key take-away was some advice Mann gave to a young blogger via email:
1. Give away more stuff than you think you should and make it easy for people to get.
2. Focus on diverse … revenue streams and always have your eyes open for new and replacement ones.
3. Don’t do stuff that seems profitable but messes up the reason people like you.
Mann and Gruber argue, successfully, that to become an expert on a topic we need to obsess about it. Gruber does this in regards to Apple. Florion Mueller has that voice in regards to patents. In politics, Paul Krugman speaks with authority for the left, David Brooks for the center and George Will for the right. Folks like Fred Wilson and Brad Feld speak well for start-ups.
In companies we see the same voice and obsession. Intuit speaks with authority on personal and small business accounting, Oracle on databases, Nike on sports apparel, and GM on automobiles, just to name a few. (Many big companies lose that obsession as they pursue profits.)
I will leave you with one of Mann’s quotes from the presentation. For start-ups #1 above is so important, especially for boot-strapped companies who should always obsess about the revenues they generate. It is hard to orientate oneself around the idea that giving up a little money today could mean more money down the road. What Mann said that spoke so true to me: “First thought is a lizard brain idea of like ‘how do I make a little money off of this.’ … If you don’t give stuff away and let people figure out why you are awesome, why would they ever be interested in anything that you do?”