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This article was published on April 9, 2011

Don’t Let Experience Stand In The Way Of Progress

Don’t Let Experience Stand In The Way Of Progress
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

The longer I’m working as an Internet Entrepreneur the more I see ideas fading away and coming back. Ideas are combined, tried again, tried differently, they shine for a while, then die, only to come back in different form, for different audiences a little later.

I bought a little app in 1995 called NetPhone. It allowed people to make free telephone calls via the Web. My dialup was too slow to handle the data and I didn’t know anyone else who was online at the time. The software disappeared and the company probably didn’t survive. In 1997 I tested a similar app, by a different start-up, but it still didn’t work. The same happened in 2000 and 2001.

In 2003 someone told me about a great app that allowed you to make free calls online. It was a european invention and had a cute name: Skype. I shrugged and thought: seen it fail so many times before, wonder if it will works this time around. And it did. There were just about enough people online and just enough people had moved from dial-up to broadband. Skype thrived.

In 1996 Yahoo! was investing in more human ‘classifiers’ to build an index of the Web. They had 20 full time employees working on classifying every website they could find. At that time they had more than 200,000 Web sites under 20,000 different categories out of an estimated 500,000 total websites online at that time. It soon became clear that the Web grew faster than Yahoo! could hire and train classifiers and they gave up the idea of a human edited index. In hindsight you could say it was pretty naive to think they could build an index with just people.

But isn’t that pretty much what Wikipedia did a few years later? You might think that it’s different and that Wikipedia is maintained by millions of people. It isn’t.

Wales decided to run a simple study to find out: he counted who made the most edits to the site. “I expected to find something like an 80-20 rule: 80% of the work being done by 20% of the users, just because that seems to come up a lot. But it’s actually much, much tighter than that: it turns out over 50% of all the edits are done by just .7% of the users … 524 people. … And in fact the most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits.”

So maybe if Yahoo! would’ve hired not 50 but 1500 editors they would’ve been able to build something even bigger than WikiPedia (they had a head start after all) and would’ve still made a different today.

In fact, that is basically what Mahalo is trying to do.

Start-ups never really fail and ideas never really die. Nothing is forgotten. Let that be of consolation when things don’t turn out as you might have hoped but also remember to use it to your advantage. What did you try last year that didn’t work? What ideas might have sucked before but might be plausible now?

Don’t be that cynical person that has seen it all before and knows all the reasons why it doesn’t work. It is good to learn from your experiences and from other peoples mistakes. But the world is changing too fast and the circumstances under which ‘mistakes’ happen are constantly changing. It might not have worked yesterday, but it might very well be a raving success tomorrow.

Experience is great but never let it stand in the way of progress.

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