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 The Googlers who developed Wave kept saying how outdated email was, and how it was not designed for the current world we live in and how Wave would replace all that.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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Innovator’s Dilemma, the search engine version

Blekko_logo Blekko is soon opening its new search engine, and getting some good coverage. Microsoft's Bing is spending hundreds of millions (billions?) trying to dog chase Google in search. Countless companies tried competing in search before – Cuil, Wolfram Alpha, etc. 

It would be fantastic for the internet to have a real #2 player in this space, but unfortunately I'm afraid none of these efforts will be a real contender to Google in the long run, and not because they fall short on product quality. In fact, most of these products (and Bing is the best example) offer a far superior experience to Google's in many ways. 

But search is a strange category to compete in. I think it has a special dynamic to it — sort of a weird variation on the "Innovator's Dilemma" — that makes it so tricky to take any meaningful market share from Google…

The Search Innovator's Dilemma

Innovators_dilemma The trouble is that search companies (and reviewers) evaluate new search engines based on what they do well. Bing does travel search great (as well as images, and many other categories), Wolfram does data-intensive search great, Blekko apparently does vertical search great, etc, etc. It's common wisdom to focus on the things you do well, and do them better than anyone else in the world. But what works well for mostly any other category of company in the world is, I think, precisely the achilles heel of all non-Google search engines. 

Because users, subconsciously, place less value on the queries a search engine handles exceptionally well, than they do on queries the search engine doesn't. In other words – a great search result for a travel query on Bing will matter less to users than getting no good results on a query for say "italian vespa collection poster" (compare to Google…)

Google might lose in the areas where its competition shines, but it doesn't matter. Our habits as users don't form there… they form on those multiple-keyword, 1-off, "non-important" queries, and that's where Google absolutely kills its competition. 

Hence the 'Search Innovator's Dilemma'… to win search market share from Google, it hardly matters to one-up Google on quality, or UI, in any specific type of search. The search habits don't form there. Where you'd need to focus is on consistently delivering OK results on all those billions of queries that "don't matter", and that's a task that, it seems, is nearly impossible for a company to take on. 

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Startup Nation

Click to buy on AmazonI recently had the pleasure of hearing Dan Senor, author of Startup Nation, at the most recent TechAviv meetup. I just bought 10 copies of the book, and will be giving them away to 10 Outbrain customers. More details on that below. 

Yaron Samid did a great job describing what Startup Nation is about: 

"…the book asks and answers the question; How is it that a nation only 60 years old, 7 million people strong (smaller than New Jersey), literally surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding and with no natural resources, has:

  • Highest concentration of startups in the world
  • Most VC investments per capita in the world
  • More NASDAQ listed companies than any country besides the US, more than all of Europe, India, China and Japan combined
  • Economy barely hit by global economic crisis

In short, how do we kick ass with such little feet? The book and its answers are particularly timely for a world struggling out of a global economic crisis. Most agree that there‚Äôs only one way out; Innovation, and Israel is its hotbed…"

(Yaron's full post – here). 

If you're interested in the book, and want to help get more people to read it by pushing it to the Amazon Best Seller list, go ahead and buy your copy here

Or, if you want a better deal, I will be giving away 10 copies of the book to the first 10 people who submit a link to Outbrain's sponsored link service – Outloud. With Outloud you can amplify an article or blog post of your choice on our network of thousands of sites and newspapers (including USA Today, Slate, Fox, Tribune, Golf.com, SportingNews, etc, etc). The cost is only $10/month for each story you choose to submit, and there is no long term commitment. You can promote any story you want to on the web – it could be about your company, a blog post you wrote, or a great article about a cause you'd like to support. Hey – you can even help get the word about Startup Nation out to more people by sponsoring this article on Newsweek

(More details on Outloud here). 

All you need to do is go to Outloud, submit your story, and let me know (either by Twitter, or on a comment here, or shoot me an email to galai[at]outbrain[dot]com). The first 10 people to do this will get a copy of the book (which, btw, sells at book stores for $27, not including the shipping… so you'd get over $40 in value for a $10 investment, and help promote a great book in the process). 

In the mean time, here's a short interview with Dan Senor, author of the book:


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