In 2006, folks at the company Odeo were brainstorming ideas for a new software product that they wanted to develop. They came up with the idea for “Twtr” for sending SMS-like messages to groups of people who may be interested in receiving it. Then they hit upon the word “Twitter” that stood for chirps from birds that also stood for “spreading inconsequential information”! That’s how Twitter was born! For a long time, Twitter was made a lot of fun of, with many people denigrating it for exactly the same thing – useless stuff for people who have too much time on their hands and not much to do!
Fast forward a few years! Try telling how “inconsequential” Twitter is to the thousands of people who sent huge numbers of tweets from Egypt trying to highlight atrocities committed by Mubarak’s people before he was overthrown!
As you read this article, Twitter is being used in Syria by both sides in the conflict to get news, pictures and other information about the conflict that is happening there to their own supporters worldwide, in real-time!
It is no longer inconsequential and has become a real-time, short, quick mechanism to get information, images out to those interested. If you have lots more information to convey than 140 characters you place them on sites and send the URLs out! Now you can send it to additional people by attaching tags!
Documentum was a document management company that was started in 1990 and grew solely as a US FDA drug approval document and workflow management company. They had their first version ready and found that pharmaceutical companies in the US were needing a system that centralized all drug approval documents, and provided document versioning when many folks, distributed geographically, needed to contribute and edit others’ edits.
Documentum was a FDA document management software for a long time before they penetrated other verticals and became a general document management software company!
Our own company started out as a Real-time Business Intelligence software company. When we showed our partically completed first version to some Business Process Outsourcing companies in Chennai just on a lark, they said that that was exactly what was needed to process their BPO SLA monitoring activities. So we became a BPO and Call Center Analytics company from a Real-Time Business Intelligence company!
From our next version, the software was dedicated to having the features that was tailored specifically for that purpose, and took a different course!
What are the lessons from all these examples?
If you are passionate about solving some problem, go ahead and implement something first. Show it around, gather users, have them use your product, and gather feedback. See where your sweet spots are – whose pain does it solve? Does it solve that pain immediately? Is the pain large enough for them to pay something in some way immediately (or monetization in case it is a consumer oriented software product like facebook or Twitter)?
If you get the same kind of positive feedback from some subset of your users consistently, you have found your sweet spot! Focus more on that market, be ready to pivot your direction towards that for a while forgetting all other markets! You can always come back to those other ones, once you are successful in that market.
Product startups may not be able to completely predict accurately who exactly might use their software and result in revenues for you in some way, right out of the gate! So get something out early, sign up users and get feedback and observe!
And be ready to pivot towards where you are finding your sweetspots! As a young startup it is very easy to get distracted and start going after all markets and all directions, but paradoxically the right strategy for rapid growth is always narrower focus! Focus in one area, one market, one group of users. Make it successful there, and then you can explore the other areas.
It is very easy to invest too much of your ego in your original direction and get stuck. This is especially a problem with technical founders. If your objective is just to do some hacking and have some technical fun, that may be OK. But if you want to build a successful business, you need to keep your ego in check and be ready to change direction nimbly, especially in the beginning.