Thursday, December 13, 2012

Whenever possible, begin the startup process with a problem

The startup world today loves hacks. Growth hacks. Venture hacks. Social hacks.

The result ends up being a focus on the means, rather than the ends. And I think that's a shame.

In one sense, hacking a startup is a great thing. Who doesn't want to get rich quick? I certainly wouldn't turn down easy money.

But in another sense, it's a terrible thing. One of the reasons so many people in Silicon Valley view Wall Street with contempt is that we see the hedge fund guys as arbitragers who don't add value, yet make buckets of money simply by pushing paper around.

Today, I was debating with a friend about a particular company. I was created in a blaze of hype, applied a lot of growth hacks (many of which I consider deceptive and bad for the user), and sold to a public company for a price that made its investors a tidy profit, and its founders wealthy. (Loyal Twitter followers can guess the identity of this company)

He admired their skill, which I freely acknowledged. But I feel like their startup is like the Wall Street idea of entrepreneurship--pull a bunch of levers and make a mint without ever creating value for users.

Om Malik approached this issue from a different angle when discussing Airtime and Color, two wildly hyped yet unsuccessful ventures:


Om sums it up very well:

Airtime suffers the same malaise as Color, the other liberally-funded startup: they don’t really solve a problem that is acute or hasn’t been solved before....It doesn’t matter who you were, how great your resume is and how many billions you have in the bank.
Both Color and Airtime seem like startups that were created to enrich their founders and/or keep them relevant, not to solve a real problem.

Silicon Valley is special because we sometimes manage to change the world. And that happens when we focus on real problems. When we get caught up in how much we raised, or how we were able to use hacks to drive growth without building a great product, we're no better than the people we revile as vampire squid.

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