Nobody saw much potential in Twitter. Even today people are quick to dismiss it when they first hear about it. “Why would I want to do that” is probably the most popular response when you introduce people to Twitter for the first time.
With so much innovation online it is hard to keep an open mind. Since more projects fail than succeed dismissing everything will give you the best odds at being right. The challenge is not predicting what will fail (most things do) but finding out what might work.
When people want to tell me why something might fail I’m not to eager to pay attention. But if someone wants to explain to me their theory of why something will become successful I’m all ears.
Unfortunately after watching online start-ups for the past 13 years I still have a very hard time predicting success. I can tell you what won’t work. Here are a few telltales that might predict failure:
A start-up that has a well written business plan, a service or product that is new and innovative (“nobody is doing this”) with founders who have a lot of business sense because they are former consultants.
Sounds good to you? To me it sounds like a failure waiting to happen. Business plans are generally outdated the moment you start building your service. If nobody is doing it that either means you didn’t really look into it or there is a very good reason why nobody is doing it. And founders with business sense? Former consultants? Why not just throw away your money. I’d give that one about 2% chance at success.
Now a description that does whet my appetite:
Two geeks with no businessplan who hacked together something funny and showed it to their friends who all liked it too.
There are a few items here that get my attention: Geeks, funny and the fact that they have something that works.
Those Google guys hacked together something that worked. They did it themselves, without a business plan and their friends liked it. That is a great foundation for a successful start-up. Same for Twitter: hacked together after a weekend retreat, used internally and when that seemed to work they invited some friends. The rest is history.
And this is why I like the ‘funny; part:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …’
To complicate matters there are a lot of exceptions to the rule. Some consultants do great work and most geeks make funny stuff that goes nowhere. Still, my money is on those geeks.