Google Wave – a few lessons for entrepreneurs

Wave_logo Google killed Wave yesterday, and I think there are a few lessons we entrepreneurs can take away from it:

  1. Focus on doing one thing great (MVP) – Wave was a classic engineering-driven product, full of features and things it can do. One of the most dangerous, silent killers of many startups is developing product features just because you can, or just because it's easy for the engineers ("lets do it – it will only take 1 day to develop"). Each specific feature seems benign on its own, but when cobbled together, cancer starts to spread in a few forms:
    • The product becomes less "crisp" – the biggest challenge you're going to have as an entrepreneur is in selling a crisp product story to a very clear buyer. By layering more 'just-because-we-can' features onto your product, you are going to lose the crispiness of what's that single thing that your product does better than anyone else in the world.
    • Maintenance becomes a nightmare – those little harmless features you add might cost very little now, but are going to cost you dearly in the future as you scale. They cost is customer support, in code complexity, in multiplying future QA efforts, etc, etc.

      So my tip would be to think about "just-because-we-can" features as if they were a cancer you should avoid developing at any cost. And if you slipped and developed one – don't hesitate to kill it and reduce your feature set. Google Wave tried to do too many things, and lost its product crsipyness in the process.

  2. Don't think of your product as an X-killer – When Wave was launched it was hyped to death as the email-killer. The Googlers who developed Wave kept saying how outdated email was, and how it was not designed for the current world we live in and how Wave would replace all that. Wave didn't stand a chance as an email-killer. But I think it could have been a great team collaboration tool within companies. Problem is – that probably didn't seem like an exciting, big enough goal to take on and so it was positioned as an email-killer.
    Focusing on being the killer of something is almost surely going to distract you and take down the wrong product roadmap. All the "Google killer" search engines, or "Facebook killer" social networks, are much more likely to be killed themselves than even scratch those they're after.
  3. Avoid big bang, hyped launches – I might be wrong on this – just my personal 2c… please take with a grain of salt. I'm allergic to hyped up product launches – I think they are extremely dangerous for startups. A hyped launch usually has minimal long-term value — it's like a Digg storm hitting your site and leaving immediately — yet it sets unrealistic expectations for users, employees and investors alike. A hyped launch is almost guaranteed to follow with a big disappointing drop to a more realistic attention level, which can be devastating for a startup. My personal 2c:
    • If you can void hype – avoid it like the plague. Just focus on, and celebrate, smaller wins – WoW or MoM growth on your core important metrics. It's a longer road, but a much healthier and more sustainable one.
    • If hype hit you – get in the bunker and IGNORE it. Tell everyone involved in the company – employees, investors, etc – to enjoy the day of hype for 2 minutes, and then get back to work and ignore it. Ignore it in the reports. Ignore it in any way you can. If you start believing the hype – you are likely on route to being doomed.
  4. Lastly, and very importantly – You can beat Google at your game! -Google does a lot of things right but they're not beyond competition or failure. As a startup it may seem like they have all the advantages over you – money, lots of smart engineers, brand, etc, etc. But believe me – if you apply some 'Moneyball thinking' (highly recommend every entrepreneur read this book) – you'll realize that as a startup you have so much unfair advantage against the BigCo's of the world that it's not even funny. Namely – you can afford to start working on much smaller, crisper bites which are too small for a BigCo to be interested in, but be the best at them in the world.

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  • Yaron Galai| August 5, 2010 at 12:12PM

    Hehe – just dug up this old tweet from the Wave launch… http://twitter.com/YaronGalai/status/4736790343/
    I guess most people that hyped up the product at launch ended up also ‘not being able to care less’ about the product…

  • Ori Lahav| August 5, 2010 at 4:16PM

    Good to see you are back to writing.
    keep on the good stuff.

  • Yaron Galai| August 5, 2010 at 4:16PM

    Thanks! Didn’t want to announce – but trying to… 😉

  • www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505925412| August 6, 2010 at 1:01AM

    I think google wave was doing 1 thing great. It was trying to reinvent email. But probably ahead of its time. I can t imagine wave being right with less features. it was just right. The only wrong thing was timing:
    > people have not finished digesting stream like communication services (twitter, facebook)
    > people have not yet reached the point where email is too painful. except for people like me maybe…
    > they did not launch all the right features at launch: notification to email was what killed the product. People had to come back to check wave. once they integrated it, it was too late. those who tried it did not integrate it in a reflex consumption mode
    I don t think wave illustrate the “do one thing right”. It is right. It is actually perfect. It is just too ahead of its time.
    I just feel Google could have won if they decided to transform their old text editor in gmail in a a wave editor (accessible in a toggle).

  • Yaron Galai| August 6, 2010 at 1:01AM

    Thanks for the comment Ouriel, but I have to disagree… Go back and watch the launch video. They were showing how Wave would:
    – replace email
    – replace IM
    – be a team collaboration tool
    – replace commenting on blogs
    – replace CMS’s/blog authoring tools
    – etc
    Except for a few categories – medical, financial and defense – every product has to start by doing a single thing better than anything else in the world. Wave was the absolute opposite of that since the beginning…

  • www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505925412| August 8, 2010 at 7:07AM

    Well i remember that video. And actually like most product launch, the team who conceive it did not grasp the immediate perceived need for a complement to email. 100% of the persons i talked to agreed that was the next step for email and that it would be a good complement. Google built the right product, but marketed it wrongly and too soon.
    for me it is not a case of wrongly focusing on the “one thing” you need to do well

  • Yaron Galai| August 8, 2010 at 7:07AM

    OK…
    Besides – if you look at the title of my post – I wasn’t trying to criticize Wave as a Google product, but rather see what we the entrepreneurs can learn from it. I have no idea what’s the right way for a BigCo like Google to go about building and launching a product. They definitely have the luxury of doing many things, and not necessarily focus on doing one thing well. Due to their size and resources, it might be smart for them to do products that are too big and complex for startups to focus on. I don’t claim to know.
    BUT – startups don’t have that luxury. We barely have the luxury of doing one thing well… and this is a big lesson entrepreneurs can take away from Wave when building their products.

  • Fredbascunana| August 8, 2010 at 9:09AM

    Following your instructive conversation with Ouriel, and having well understood, hopefully, The purpose of your article, I must disagree with The “lessons for entrepreneurs”.
    The beautifully crafted wave platform did not find its public, okay.
    But Android did, and is now ahead of Apple In terms of sales. And Android is definitely doing many things at the same time and had its hyped launches.
    The keystone of a viable strategy for any entrepreneur, is to feel FREE to try !
    Accept mistakes and researching somewhere else.
    That’s the greatest leçon here from Google: The ability to abandon a platform, showing no remorse, no regrets at all.
    They tried to do too many things here ? – I don’t think that was an issue. Because that’s the way they learnt all the more. And they did too man things just because they could? Well again, that’s a positive thing to me : that way you give the company a chance to invent or find accidentally a new kind of virtuous circle within this field of product experimentation.

  • Yaron Galai| August 8, 2010 at 9:09AM

    Hey Fredbascunana – thanks for stopping by to comment.
    I can’t argue with your point, nor Ouriel’s. I’ve never run a company the size of Google’s, and certainly don’t pretend to suggest anything to them on how they should… they’re some of the smartest people on the planet, and have done a phenomenal job building this company. Android is a great example – but, it is also an example of a product that a startup could likely never do.
    What I suggested in my post is that an entrepreneur running a *startup*, has no luxury to do more than one thing very well. Unless you’re raised more than say $30M, that is absolutely, scientifically the case. Google can afford to do some Waves and Buzz’s and Knols, and kill them easily if they don’t work out. A startup will simply die quickly by following the same strategy.

  • Gabriel Goldenberg| August 24, 2010 at 1:01AM

    “And Android is definitely doing many things at the same time and had its hyped launches.
    The keystone of a viable strategy for any entrepreneur, is to feel FREE to try !”
    I think Android does refute the point about hype killing you (or at least shows its survivable and not thaaat bad). But the takeaway I get is that old lesson about producing what the market wants.
    1) In one case, there was already a market for smart phones, and it was/is growing.
    2) In the second case, there was no market for wtv the hell wave was supposed to do.
    P.s. I’m as happy as you are to see Wave (and Buzz and Knol) dead, especially considering the big push Buzz had in gmail and the hype around wave. Go underdog entrepreneurs !

  • DouglasCrets| November 14, 2011 at 11:11AM

    I like that you point out that Google Wave was basically death by engineering, and I really think your comment is very accurate when you point out that the engineers wanted Wave to be an email-killer, without really consulting on the consumers of email, who quite like using email for what they use it for. I’m going around Israel this month and in December interviewing entrepreneurs for a radio show, and I would like to talk to you, if you have time. I have sent an email to your company to try to book time with you. Let me know if you can make it. I will be in Tel Aviv November 28.

  • Mrleo999| December 20, 2011 at 8:08AM

    Very interesting post, I think every entrepreneur should read it and re-read before getting into multiplatform solutions with tonnes of unnecessary features.