The Small Things

When I was young people used to always say “don’t sweat the small stuff.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only things I should sweat are the small things. After all, they are the only things I can control.

In the end I can’t control what happens to the country. I can only understand the issues, share my opinion when asked, and care deeply about my vote. In the end, the success of a product is so much bigger than just me. I can only sweat the details: the animations, the graphics, the interaction, the customer relationship. In the end, I can’t control how my daughters turn out as grown-ups. I can only teach them to mind their manners and make sure they do their homework and teach them what it means to put heart and soul into the things they care about.

I’d like to think that sweating a lot of details means I’ll have an impact on my world. But I don’t sweat that; just the details.

Happy holidays everyone. I’ll see you in the new year.

Startup Doesn’t Equal VC

Starting a business has nothing to do with VCs. Startups have everything to do with exploring a product that satisfies a group of underserved customers. Paul Graham wrote an incredibly good essay on the topic of coming up with startup ideas. He never talks about funding in the article. He talks about how to derive the ideas and determine whether any one idea is a good idea. In short, “Live in the future and then build what’s missing.”

This topic is very important to me, especially the part about funding and VCs. Venture capital is just one way of funding a business. So are loans, credit cards, side projects, full-time jobs, and getting customers to pay for stuff before they get the product. The myth that startup and VC is synonymous is propagated by the same people who have a vested interest in making the connection: VCs.

There is nothing wrong with a business that pays the bills. It is not a lifestyle business. It is fraught with the same risks as every other startup and every other company.

It is okay to build a small business. 99% of all companies in this country are small. There is nothing easy about paying the bills with a company you started from scratch. In fact I would argue that you can’t skip that step. Paying the bills from cash flow is the only way to really build a larger company.

And going after just 1% of US citizens is not thinking small. It is thinking big. 1% is 3.1 million people. At $10 per year that’s $31 million in revenue. There is nothing small about that, even if some people want you to think so.

Other People’s Thoughts On Product Definitions

As we wind up development on the first rev of our new product, my thought moves full-time to marketing. Explaining a new thing is really hard. I’ve been saving a series of articles on the topic to read again. I thought I’d share them:

I’ve been refining the messaging for months, running it by people selectively, judging their reactions, refining it some more. I’m still not there but am definitely closer.

Word Of Mouth Starts Before Launch

A week and a half ago I wrote about the on-going debate between mobile and web and which is the better platform. I wrote that we need to think about web as two separate things: one is the browser interface, the customer-facing component and the other is the back-end technologies that tie devices and users together seamlessly. I got in a conversation with Michael Mace on the topic and he said the following:

This subject takes me back to a conversation I had a few years back with a successful web developer who also had worked on mobile apps for years.  He said the ideal way to design a software business was to make it a mix of mobile app and PC-oriented website, because each was better at some things.  The web was great for customer acquisition, because it’s so open and there are so many ways to get viral.  Mobile, he said, was best for deepening user loyalty once you’ve acquired customers, because it’s so personal and immediate.

At the end of the day, for any small company, customer acquisition is the hardest part. If you can position your product the right way then mobile is incredible for acquiring customers. But customer acquisition is so much more than getting people to download the app.

I heard someone talking about the mediocre impact of PR. He called it the Techcrunch effect (or being fireballed from John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog). It drives up page views for a few hours. That’s it. It didn’t drive logins. It didn’t drive paying customers. It just drove page hits.

This time of year always reminds my how over-saturated with advertising we are culturally. I am literally getting an email every day with some deal from MLB.com, REI and Performance bikes. Every day! Who can take advantage of that? Or would want to? It’s insane.

The only way to make a product go, then, is to get people to talk about it. Yes, PR could be a part of that and the use of email marketing is a component of that, but without word of mouth by every day people, it’s all moot.

Back to Mike. We were talking this morning and Mike commented on Guy Kawasaki’s new book. (An ebook on developing ebooks. How meta!) Two weeks ago Guy sent out a request for people to read his new book and Mike agreed. A day before the book went live at Amazon, Guy sent out a request for reviews. Mike thought he’d surprise Guy and go up there at midnight to review it, figuring he’d be the first. He got there at 12:30 and there were already 15 reviews. In the morning there were 30 and in 24 hours there were over 100. Guy’s book shot to #1 in its category.

It isn’t PR that made Guy Kawasaki’s book a success. It was his contacts and the word-of-mouth that group created for him, especially ahead of launch. Maybe the real mobile v. web debate should center around how easy it is to develop pre-launch and post-launch word of mouth, rather than the technology itself. In the end, we’ve got to have a good product. But without marketing no one will know about it.

The Rules Are The Rules

I have such mixed feelings about Apple’s App Store and the way it is handled. On one hand it is great for users as they know every piece of software they download won’t be stealing their information or act as a virus. (Yes, there are missed things but for the most part this has been true and Apple quickly fixes the security issues.) On the other hand, it has destroyed the price of software, made marketing a product except by word of mouth nearly impossible, and makes testing with more than a few people painful.

Given that, though, I do respect Apple for its consistency. If this report is to be believed then Apple basically told Microsoft they can pay the same rate as everyone else.

So the company has been pushing Apple to adjust the 70/30 revenue split in its developer license agreement. Predictably, Apple has refused to comply. It’s not yet clear what sort of concession Microsoft is seeking, but whatever it is, Apple’s evidently not willing to consider it. Indeed, I’m told it has taken a “the rules are the rules” stance, which would suggest it’s not at all willing to negotiate a different split.

There are no favorites in Apple’s world. The rules are the rules. I heard similar stories from a friend regarding Apple’s developer conference. He works in a massively huge organization and Apple set a five passes per company rule for the conference. No exceptions were made, even for this big company that has hundreds who could attend.

[via Daring Fireball]