Building a successful Internet company is about convenience and one more thing

Read this article about Ev Williams’ interpretation of how to build a successful business on the internet.

A company that helps people do something they already do easier and faster is going to succeed.

The first generation dating sites made it easier for a lot of people to find a date.  The next generation dating sites are increasing the turnover and lowering the time investment people have to make.  Grinder makes finding a one night stand as simple as opening an app.  Coffee meets bagel makes finding a date as simple as connecting your Facebook account, and the dating decision a simple yes/no on both sides.  None of the new dating sites are *more* complicated to use than e-Harmony.

The first generation social networks made it easier for people to connect with their friends.  Even though it takes effort to build a profile and upload photos, it still is way better than keeping track of people through an address book and calling them.  The next generation social networks once again lower the time investment for those users.  Twitter only requires 140 characters.  Instagram just requires you to take a photo.  None of the new social networks are *more* complicated to use than Facebook.

With Gojee, we learned Ev’s point first hand.

Our first idea: a grocery reward card data aggregator was complicated and a new idea.  People would have to form a new behavior.  The engineering was complicated because no body had yet invented the wheel in the space.  An idea like that required heavy up-front investment and a long runway, something a first time founding team has a hard time doing.

Our next idea: make recipe finding easier and more pleasurable.  It appealed to the most basic human needs of wanting to be fed and be surrounded by beautiful things.  As soon as it launched, people took noticed and started using it.

Even though Twitter, Coffee Meets Bagel and Gojee have all made our users lives more convenient, our success are vastly different.  The key drivers of success come down to the size and monetizability of the user groups whose lives we make better.

Successful business either needs to be able to convince a few people to fork over a lot of money, or a lot of people to fork over a few dollars.  Dating sites fall in the first category.  Social networks fall in the second category.

Food sites, they fall somewhere in between.  While there are a lot of people who eat food, a much smaller portion actively use the internet for cooking.  Those who do, certainly don’t pay up for it.  So when you have an idea that definitely improves people’s lives, make sure to ask yourself the next question: “how many people’s lives is this product really helping?  if it’s not 1/10 of the world, then how much are those people willing to pay up for this service?”

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