Startups: The Bad And The Good Ones
Sometimes we fall into products that barely make any change or solve any problems. It leads other people into creating more products that are useless but presented otherwise.
I see this behaviour in many new startups that seek funding in Kickstarter or similar platforms. So I decided to write about few examples when startup culture goes too far with their “change the world” statements.
World’s First iOS & Android Connector
LMcable can solve “chaos” in your life by letting you connect the same cable to phones with micro USB and Lightning connectors. You can charge iPhone or Android with the same cable. I think it’s adequate to manufacture this kind of cable because there is nothing wrong with the product itself. The biggest problem is that they present the damn cable like it could change someone’s life! Please, stop this silly nonsense.
If you have problems because of different cable why not buy a phone with the cable that fits all of your other devices? Why not move to Europe, where Apple will have to introduce USB cables (they are still getting away from it) because of EU laws? Why not form an organisation which fights cable diversity? All cables should be created equal!
Jokes aside, I have no problem with two separate cables for different devices. I don’t spill my coffee because I can’t find the right cable. That’s just not a problem. LMcable is another self-proclaimed world changer when in reality it strictly depends on one company. If Apple replaced their cables to micro USB or any other connector, LMcable would suddenly stop changing the world.
Copy Paste Trash Bin From Apple
When Apple introduced new Mac Pro design, whole internet went into rage and started posting pictures on how the new design makes Mac Pro look like a trash bin. However, even after few years, there are people who think this is somehow new and life-changing.
Dune Case is described by its “inventors” as a sleek and stylish alternative to traditional desktop PC cases. When in reality, it’s a Mac Pro case redesigned for Mini-ITX low-power motherboards. Dune Case is not even an alternative to PC cases. It’s just a different design for Mini-ITX cases. They had the nerve to introduce Dune Case like it was entirely new and their idea. But the worst problem is that they even copycatted the presentation format! You probably already have seen typical Apple product introduction?
Dune Case doesn’t offer anything new for the wider user base, maybe for a small percent of people who want to have PC that looks like Mac Pro, and I can’t understand why would anyone want that.
Wake Up App That Will Help You Wake Up This Time
Wakie is a friendly community of people who help each other by sharing their own life experience and zest for life. The end goal of this app is to help each other wake up.
Users need to set the time when they want to wake up and wait for a phone call from a stranger to talk about random or chosen topic. While talking to people and looking for buddies or just pranking someone using this app may seem like a good idea, asking strangers to wake you up is not. It’s weird. It’s not 1800s. We don’t need knocker-uppers around our windows or in our phones anymore. We now have alarm clock features on every phone, even the dumb ones!
Default alarms on every phone or clock still do the job. That’s all you need to wake up. Seriously. If people can’t do that, maybe the problem is somewhere else? Redirecting the problem to another “smart and different” alarm app isn’t going help. I have tried many apps during my study years. I always found many flaws in them, so I would download a new app every day hoping it will help me wake up. Once I was so sleepy that I couldn’t solve the puzzle on my screen to turn off the alarm and it just kept ringing, so I threw my smartphone straight to the wall just to shut it up.
Guess what! The problem wasn’t with the app – it was with my self-discipline. When I started fixing my sleep routine, all waking up problems solved out eventually. Now only one alarm is enough, because if it’s skipped, I am late. So I don’t need another sophisticated alarm app to give me the wrong idea and solve problems that don’t truly exist.
Why We Are Here?
Let’s try to take a look at why people build stuff that doesn’t solve any actual problems, but claim otherwise. The first example shows how a decent product can be ruined by selling it with a cheesy message and taking way too much credit for solving “chaos” in people’s lives. The second example shows how a product with stolen idea is doomed to fail because no one wants “invention” worse than other products already in the market. The third example shows how creators believe that their idea is the one who will solve everything, but instead, the problem is a result of the product itself.
I think there is one simple issue with this mindset. People think of the ideas for their startups instead of doing something because of their own experience.
“Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they begin by trying to think of startup ideas. That m.o. is doubly dangerous: it doesn’t merely yield few good ideas; it yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.”
-Paul Graham, Startup Ideas
That’s all there is to it. When you start to think of startup ideas and solve problems that you don’t have, you’re likely going to fail. All the products created with this approach are the same but presented differently. Thinking of some idea is just a tiny step of starting something successful. It doesn’t take a genius to think of a new startup idea. It can be done using this, this or this tool. To get a good description of newly generated startup idea, this tool can also help. Generating idea and adding CEO title to your LinkedIn profile is not enough. Execution and meaning behind the idea are the key areas where small startups need to focus.
Any Good Examples?
Businesses that use startup as acceleration method and not the business model itself. People who have ideas on how to solve particular problems from their personal experiences, not from idea generator websites. Companies with a solid reasoning behind the idea and execution capabilities. Examples below describe such companies and show what happens if they start doing something only because of good delivery potential, lacking valid reasoning behind the idea.
Drew Houston had the idea to start Dropbox from his own experience. He constantly forgot his USB flash drive while he was studying at MIT. In the mid-00s there were some cloud storage services, but all of them had many drawbacks that kept them from reaching broader user base. Drew and Arash Ferdowsi came with their own solution for such platform and founded Dropbox in 2007 through Y Combinator. Dropbox is now considered not only as one of the most successful cloud storage services but also as a startup in Silicon Valley. This year the company celebrated their half a billion users. They made cloud storage easy for everyone around the world. However, Dropbox tried to step in other fields of technology, but failed because they just did it “because they could.”
Carousel was a photo management app evolved from Dropbox’s camera upload feature. Service competed with Google Photos, Apple Photos, and Flickr. They didn’t have anything else to offer except for beautiful photo arrangement and backups. People already used Dropbox for photo backups, so they didn’t really need the new feature. They were already managing their photos in other services. The feature was shut down earlier this year.
Dropbox also tried to step into email business by acquiring Mailbox, a minimalist email management application. The app itself was a great success, but it was also shut down by Dropbox because they wanted to focus on the reasons why we are cluttered with emails, not with the management of that clutter. Mailbox didn’t fit into their user routines and probably was a waste of Dropbox’s focus from the core product.
Evernote launched in 2008, and it was a huge success among Silicon Valley’s companies. Initially founded by Stepan Pachikov, but the business model developed by Phil Libin. He saw a potential to create an application that not only helps you remember stuff, but also is designed to be as your electronic memory, which lets you easily capture any type of information.
Service is based on freemium model, but you can use it for free without any bigger disadvantages. Premium version is designed for the most advanced users, who are loyal to the product and are serious about organizing their information. Evernote’s user base grew rapidly because of this. From February 2008 to January 2010 it reached 3 million users. During this period 5.5% of all the users converted to the premium version. It was enough to keep the company running. Now Evernote has more than 200 million users and stable premium user base.
Things started to change when they released products doubtfully relevant to their primary service. Food, Peek, Hello and Clearly - now all of them discontinued to keep the focus on core product, their note taking application. However, there are still two side products operational, highly integrated into Evernote. Skitch – iOS and macOS app for annotation, shapes, and sketches. Penultimate – iPad app for handwriting.
Evernote’s original idea was successful because it was driven by a solid concept, while other apps were just strained over projects without clear perception how it would fit into whole note taking experience.
Slack is a messaging app for teams that is currently becoming an industry standard. More than 60,000 teams use the service, and the numbers are still swiftly growing. We had tons of similar apps before, but Slack combined many great features and seamless integrations in one product. On top of that, it’s fun to use!
Great idea and enormous resources lead to such outcome. I am talking not only about financial assets, but the ability to attract teams to use the product. You can’t just go to a company, tell them that this product is excellent and expect everyone in the company to fall for it. If one of the engineers doesn’t like it and says that he or she is not going to use it, that’s a drag for the whole company. It’s not the same as attracting single users. Slack managed to listen carefully to their customers and adopt the software during the private beta period, so it fits everyone’s workflows.
What should you do then?
Sitting and brainstorming for startup ideas won’t bring any time-worthy results. Ideally, look for them from on own experiences and background. Create products that solve actual problems. When you come up with an idea that only you have the solution to solve, ensure it gets required resources. Don’t create startups that are simulations of other companies. Avoid making corny products. Don’t be like this guy:
Otherwise, learn from the best and create something that’s really meaningful and life-changing: