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Why I'm treating startups more critically lately

I've noticed that lately I'm treating startups much more critically. Today I chewed into an entrepreneur who was pitching me a new thing that was sort of like Oink, or maybe it was Foursquare, or maybe it was Foodspotting.

It's the third company I've told off lately.

I figured it was worth talking about why I'm being so harsh behind closed doors to entrepreneurs lately.

The bar has gone up.

What do I mean by that?

Well, Bizzy, a Foodspotting competitor, has recently closed its doors.

Why? Because no one was harsh enough with it.

The marketplace is far harsher than I am and I've seen signals from the marketplace that entrepreneurs better heed: there are too many startups, too many things to try, too many apps that really don't do much more than Google.

What I learned today is that entrepreneurs are often being given bad advice "ship now, and iterate," I learned from the CEO I was chewing out today. "Oh, how did that work for Color?" I asked.

See, the market is very crowded now for certain kinds of apps. Especially location-based and social network ones. So, if you're gonna pitch me something it better provide magic. Angels better sing when I open your app up. Otherwise, why should I use your app instead of Instagram, Foodspotting, Foursquare, Yelp, or my new ones, Batch, SocialCam, or Oink?

If your design isn't better than Flipboard, or at least as neat looking as Oink, why are you even trying?

Some advice:

1. Have at least one very clear, and cool, use case. I.E. have something you can show someone else that makes them say "oh, my, that's freaking useful."

2. Make sure every piece of your app at least matches the competition. The other day I was using a consumer electronics pricing engine and the search just wasn't working. Oh, really? I still might run their video but it sure doesn't feel good.

3. You gotta bring something really useful and new to the market. "But we let you search your past locations" isn't good enough. I can do that with Google and Foursquare. Telling me "but we have better social network features than Facebook," isn't good enough. Google has spent half a billion on Google+ and even IT is struggling to get people off of Facebook. You really think you're better than +Larry Page and +Vic Gundotra? Well, here's a hint: no you are not.

4. You gotta make it easy and make it work for all users. We live in a world now where we give apps only about 30 seconds. OK, maybe 60 seconds. Instagram hooked me instantly (and the entrepreneurs LOADED THAT APP FOR ME). One entrepreneur showed me their app this week, which had +MG Siegler on it. "Give it to me right now," I demanded. After they resisted they admitted that they probably wouldn't be able to deal with my contact list. Another company tonight that I met showed me a similar app, when I started it up (I do that while you talk to me) it gave me an error. Gone.

5. Your product must match your story. If you tell me "we're going to help you find great TV" but then you force me to build yet another social network first, I'm going to feel ripped off. So many companies present one thing, while saying another.

6. I hate the term "minimal viable product." That's like telling me "we're shipping without any features because, well, our investors and advisors told us to ship and fix the product later." Good companies do ship, but they pick the right features and they ship magic. Siri? Magic. Flipboard? Magic. Instagram? I had five comments within two minutes (and that was back when there was only 80 users on it). Tonight I used SocialCam again for the first time in a while. Within 60 seconds I had likes and comments. That tells me that that system has users and has a feature set that gathered lots of users (the CEO has a whole story about how they hid their best features and users keep praising them -- the future version he showed me tonight is making those features easier to find).

7. If it doesn't do something with both Facebook and Twitter (with Google+ to come) then you are gonna look lame. Why? I watch 33,000 of the world's best users and if they aren't using your app I probably will delete it after a few days and forget it. It's amazing how forgettable so many apps are. The best ones? Keep getting discussed and shared over and over and over again. How many times have I seen Foursquare used? Evernote? Instapaper? Mint? Foodspotting? Instagram? Thousands and thousands of times.

Anyway, one reason I do this is:

1. I want better technology to use. Many entrepreneurs have the right instincts. They are scratching their own itch, which makes for interesting products, but they often don't take into account the competitive landscape. After all, they don't have time to code all night AND keep up to date on what +Kevin Rose or +Kevin Systrom or +Alexa Andrzejewski are doing.

2. My own brand goes up if I support great companies. If I bring you more Flipboards and Siri's people take me more seriously. If I bring them more Bizzy's, that flounder in the marketplace, people take me less seriously.

3. The stronger entrepreneurs are, the better my employer does. I work for +Rackspace Hosting and if we're hosting companies that go all the way and get big and important then we do better economically. Even if you're on a competitor I want you to do well. Why? Because generally as companies do better they need better service from their hosting partner, which puts us in play for that business.

4. I remember when +Gary Vaynerchuk chewed out a winery on air that had just put him up, had given him 250 cases of wine to throw a party, and I always respected him for that. It's so easy to just rub the back of someone who is showing you respect. It's another level to lay out the harsh truth. I find that laying out the harsh truth isn't easy, but generally builds better relationships. People remember what you did for them, and if you tell them to take another two months to get it right it might hurt, but it'll hurt a lot less than to go through the pain that Color or Bizzy went through.

All that said, I don't have all the answers. Some things that I missed have gone on to be major companies (LinkedIn and DropBox, for instance). Sometimes I'm too much of an early adopter, so my advice can turn out to be wrong. And sometimes companies will go on just to prove me wrong. So, I try to be humble about it and I try to put myself in their shoes. But, if I was building a product or a company I'd want people to give me the harsh truth too (it's why I always read my comments and especially consider the critical comments. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong, but I almost always learn something by listening).

Anyway, if you're an entrepreneur, I'm getting harsher. Bring your A game and it'll all work out and if it doesn't, there's lots of other journalists now, so you don't need to go through me to have success.

One promise, though: if I am harsh to you, I will always give you a second, and probably a third chance. Why? I've invested in you my time and my instincts and I want to make sure I'm not wrong when I do that.

Who's building a company that meets the bar? Drop me a line. scobleizer@gmail.com

Photocredit: I shot this photo of fish at the Guangzhou Fish Restaurant in China.
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231 comments
 
This is the ultimate post in name dropping. Love it :)
 
Heh, it's just that that's what I do: meet people and study them.
 
Fantastic article with really valuable advice for young entrepreneurs
 
On another note, this obsession with G+ leaves your Twitter followers abandoned. You dont hang out there very much anymore, eh?
Joe Devon
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Is an app even a company?

An app-based startup is just silly on the face of it for me. Even flipboard, as beautiful as it is.

If the mobile web eventually beats out apps the way the web did to native apps, then is there a company left or not?

If the answer is no, it isn't a long term company in my book.
 
+Hillel Fuld Twitter sucks for conversations. I am on Twitter every minute of every day, it streams down the side of my screens but it's NOT APPROPRIATE to have conversations there, so who am I doing any favors to by answering there. Get over here and have a real conversation.
 
+Joe Devon I disagree. We're moving into a world where many many people are ONLY using mobile. So, apps are going to be very important. Flipboard is still much better for reading news than any web page I use.
 
Thanks +Robert Scoble for your insight here! Im sure many would find your feedback invaluable. I don't think you're harsh at all. It's how you perceive your advice. Harsh is you giving zero feedback. They're lucky!!

I absolutely agree with you. If people are just meeting the market standard, they need to go back and lift their game even more. I love these pointers >> "Angels better sing when I open your app up" and "If your design isn't better than Flipboard, or at least as neat looking as Oink, why are you even trying?".
 
+Robert Scoble , if and when I ever come to you with my app, feel free to let loose on me. Your criticism will be more than whatever praise you could give me.
 
Well, someone had to say it!! superb post. There are w-a-y too much going on these days where you see new apps and startups that instead of being innovative and offer something new, piggy-back on existing successful services, offering a mild twist. VCs be warned.
 
I totally agree! It shocks me nearly DAILY, to see how many repackaged, "repositioned" rethemed, rehashed (but really different) companies get money thrown at them through to second seed round and beyond, only to see thier obituaries two quarters later! But maybe I'm looking at this wrong (from a pre-funded startup's perspective) maybe there IS a market servicing VC write-off demand I'm not privy to?
 
It is stunning how you can possibly keep up with all the apps being developped by startups and even more so how you can sort through them picking the ones that might have success. Thanks for you work! :)
 
Such a great value in this post.
 
+Robert Scoble Very important, yes. I agree. But how many winners? And which ones? Which platform will win?

Will the loss of Jobs mean iPhone is less important soon. Developing for Android has so many pitfalls. There's a great chart on the difficulties.

Sure, it's fun to watch you cover these so-called companies...but I wouldn't put my long term money into any who are standing on the quicksand of mobile thinking it's stable.

I mean, how many sites do you visit a day? How many apps do you download a day and go back to a month later? There's a reason the web was so successful. Apps just don't scale the way the web does.
 
Robert is only channeling back to entrepreneurs something we all feel that their market is hardening right now.
 
The important thing about Socl is that it has facebook connect! (in the earlier tulalip leaked photos):D
 
My start up is a computer repair shop. I want to do more then just that but I want to make a full time job out of my hobby. The only problem is stuff like that is a dime a dozen anymore these days.. got to differentiate of course but who's going to pony up VC for something like this... no one. So I have to run it out of my house so what, Facebook was created and ran out of a dorm room. :) I think too many startups are asking for VC and not bootstrapping enough.
 
Socl will be a classroom study, not only in bad timing, but also in the genetic "me-tooism" that has always characterized Microsoft's approach to the web. The fact that "buy, don't create" worked on the desktop will be their undoing in the cloud.
 
Good posting. Even in the perfect economy it's best to be harsh in order to improve. My most successful times have been when I was hardest on myself. It's good motivation.
 
+John Blanton lots of great companies were bootstrapped. GoPro is 200 yards from me and was started with less than $10,000. It got to 70 employees before they took venture. SmugMug is another favorite bootstrapped company. It can be done.
 
Hi, Robert. Are you in China right now? Will you come to Beijing? 
 
Nice one +Robert Scoble , Initially i followed u and then stopped following , but since sometime now You have been giving awesome reviews, the best thing about You is that these reviews are fair and honest ,not just bashing google or apple like gruber , mg and steve gillmor
 
+Robert Scoble That's right. That's my plan. I just wish more startups were less VC dependant. However, If they deserve it more power to them.
 
+Guillaume Bog nope, I just shot that picture a couple of years ago when I was in China. Hope to make it back soon.
 
I am a developer and welcome it and refreshing to hear actually since it does prompt me to raise my game
 
Good idea to come to Beijing, tech startups are hot here, but need to be scobelized a bit more.
 
"You really think you're better than +Larry Page and +Vic Gundotra Well, here's a hint: no you are not."

Don't let Robert take away that dream from you, if you believe you are then go for it. Neither Larry nor Vic (nor Robert for that matter) could've known how successful they were going to be.

When you eventually pitch Robert your product and he chews you out, think of what Larry and Vic would've done. Would they be hurt, hole up and abandon their efforts? Not likely and that's why Robert's stance is insanely great and valuable.

Hug the people that care enough to tell you the truth, especially if it's painful.
 
+Robert Scoble, granted, but if they did, that would be the beginning of the end. :) What's their last big success that didn't ship in a box? (This from a big C# fan, mind you.)
 
Good, sound sense. Too many people want to be in the 'start up' game only for the 'glamour' of it - without a solid product - or solid plan (no, not business plan as such, as that usually is just thin air).
Never understood the VC's either: 'roll out now, fix it later' - I even see it here on G+ - so much still needs to be fixed (Picasa, anyone? The stream-jump still not fixed :-( ) - but then, Google can afford it (although it takes away from the experience) - as a start-up you can not. So yes, be harsher, weed out the wannabe's and me-too's - keeps our stream cleaner as well...
 
+Dennis Hettema no, but when Larry Page came out his product was DRAMATICALLY better than what existed on the market. So, if you do think you are better your demo better prove it. Otherwise, don't even try. And even Larry is falling flat in a lot of areas when compared with Facebook.
 
I think young entrepreneurs need to start thinking more in terms of creating businesses that sell something. Especially for rookie entrepreneurs. We're entering dangerous waters (Red Oceans) when VCs are throwing money at every new mobile photo sharing app. It's ridiculous. I understand everyone wants to take the whole cake and get that billion dollar valuation, but is that going to really make you all that much happier than building a sustainable business that makes a few million a year!?

We need an entire shift in the way we think about this industry. As someone with your substantial following, +Robert Scoble, perhaps it's time to start talking not just about feature flaws but about a flawed system.
 
+Steve Faktor you aren't the only person to tell me this lately. Building real technology is tough. There are companies out there doing it. But often they aren't the sexy Instagrams or Flipboards. More like SeaMicro or NetOptics, etc.
 
Great approach. Thanks for sharing your feedback.
 
Say Instagram a few more times, I think there is still one guy in the Maldives that doesn't yet know how much you like it. ;0)
 
+Jordan Fowler I often see companies that are pre-funding. The company I saw today didn't yet have funding. Lots of entrepreneurs think that if they just do something a little better than what's already gotten funded, that they will get funded too. That sometimes does work, but I'm finding that most of the serious VCs out there won't fund this stuff either. VCs, believe it or not, tend to be smart and tend to say "there's too many in the market and that's increased the risk that we won't be successful."
 
+Robert Scoble I guess that with "don't even try" you mean: "don't bother emailing me". Based on your rant I cannot imagine that you mean "don't attempt your dream".

It would be awesome if Friends, Fools and Family would get rid of the sugar coating and tell the dreamers what's wrong with their products. The sad truth is that most people don't because they're afraid of hurting your feelings (which usually has the exact opposite effect).

It's a funny tightrope that we have to walk, arrogant enough to believe in our visions but perceptive enough to understand when we are actually dreaming.
 
+Aaron Rasch I look at a lot of companies and Instagram nailed it. Call me a fanboy if you want, but I'll take that hit.
 
+Dennis Hettema all dreams must be tested if they are to be realized. This is not a job for the weak. I keep a poster on my wall to remind me of this. It says "I'm not delusional, I'm an entrepreneur." By the way, if you think I'm hard to please, you should meet some of my favorite VCs or folks like Paul Graham at Y Combinator. Paul seems like a nice guy, but he gets 2,000 applications and only funds 60. Now THAT is harsh!
 
+Robert Scoble I jest! Instagram is everything you say it is. I installed about 30 apps on my wife's phone when she first got it, Instagram is the only one she used within the first 3 minutes and still uses
every day
 
+Hillel Fuld - Funny. I didn't see any name dropping just an article, very interesting one, with appropriate references where necessary.
+ Mr Fuld - Again . I've seen Robert on twitter every day and read all his posts on their, haven't seen yours thought :(
+ Joe Devon - . I agree with Robert. There is only mobile. I am developer, have been for 25 years. Seen the transition to mobile, if you not in mobile space you are on the bench. The future is a fusion of tablet and fone and laptops. Desktops are already obsolete (yes yes ignore the bandwidth problem it will eventually go away))
Finally +Robert - I will be sending you my african pitch later today :) You may have noticed SACoderz commenting on twitter but i doubt it, not in your radar......yet :)
 
Rule of thumb: If you don't think you could sell it on Shark Tank, don't take it to a VC. You'd better be solving a hard problem, it better need solving (according to the market), and you'd better have a few unfair advantages up your sleeve.
 
+Robert Scoble ha yeah, the way I describe entrepreneurship to people asking me for help is: "a storm of shit with the occasional ray of sunshine" :)
 
One of your great gifts is your ability to be enthusiastic, interested and polite to everyone you meet. Being honest with people and giving them great early feedback on their product is incredibly useful to entrepreneurs and could actually save a lot of wasted effort. Giving honest feedback is the greatest git you can give. Anyone that knows you knows that you are an extraordinary champion of entrepreneurship and will, as you say, always give people a second and a third chance. That is one of the reasons you are awesome.

(By the way, can you recall the most times you have been approached by one individual with an idea until you saw one that you liked and took off?).
 
+Aaron Rasch oh, got it. Exactly. That's what I mean. Three minutes and hooked. Not many apps do that for me.
 
+Robert Scoble Just emailed you, I hope I get through the 10% filter. If not, expect unending phone calls in the morning. Great discussion happening here!
 
Awesome post.. "ship now, and iterate" is dangerous.. striking a balance with time/quality/features is something I would always go with any day.
 
+Mark Littlewood I have trouble remembering what I saw yesterday, so I'm not a good keeper of data like that. Generally I'm not a good judge by myself. I need other signals to see if something will be hot. Flipboard is an example when I was first, though, and thought it was awesome, but I really got sold on it after I showed it to other people and saw their reactions to it.
 
Good for you, you're actually performing a public service. There's too many of these damn things. Somebody has to thresh them.
 
Great post Scoble! Every startup should Print, Frame and Hang this post as the office center piece! Well said!
 
+Robert Scoble didnt get any harsh feedback from you about our company so I am guessing we are good at stage 0.5 :)

+John Blanton Bootstrapping is phenomenal.. most of the great companies that have stood the barrage of time were bootstrapped.
 
This is awesome. Well written and filters through all the cult-like mentalities pervading startup communities in SV and NY.

Curious though - you mentioned Color. Do you think the game is over for them? They may have failed on their first true, and I'm not sure how Blue's going to do, but do you think their chances of success are a moot point so soon?
 
+Ankit Shah I believe Color's second coming is a totally different approach and product. It might even be good for them to change their name to get away from the bad smell that came from Color 1.0.

+Vineet Devaiah do you have any competition on Android (they do a panoramic photo app that's pretty well done)?
 
+Ankit Shah, my bet, the game isn't over for Color, but it is late in the third quarter, they're behind, and it's fourth down and long.
 
+Vineet Devaiah I wasn't meaning to say or sound like I'm afraid to bootstrap. It's what I'm doing right now :)
 
+Robert Scoble No room for social networks like Facebook and G+ but what do you think about linkedin? Viadeo in Europe has a different strategy with a country by country segmentation. I think the strategy is not too bad but the pricing and the features are awfull. So I think there is room in this market.
 
+Branko Shumanski in general I agree with Roger McNamee, but he wasn't all that specific and the talk is mistitled. The commenters are wrong, though. That provided me with the most entertainment. They just don't understand WHY they are wrong. Which makes them even funnier.
 
i make games for the windows phone, windows phone is the future, get in now :)
 
+clive boulton even better, I'm interviewing Eric Ries on December 1. I believe a lot of companies don't quite understand his advice (I've interviewed him before). +Yoann Maingon what are you talking about? I didn't say there's no room for Facebook or Google+. I said that the market is now crowded and it's going to be very hard to compete with them. LinkedIn doesn't compete with Facebook or Twitter or even Google+. It is doing something else and always has (being for business). I don't think Viadeo will find a very willing marketplace. But at least they have some strength: good market in France.
 
+Jason Palmer not according to the VCs and most of the developers. I talked with one developer tonight who did build for Windows Phone and he told me it's a disaster.
 
I have to say that this is one of my favorite things you've ever written +Robert Scoble.
It really ought to go on the wall of anyone working on a startup who thinks that all s/he'll have to do is 'pitch' you (or any other tech journalist or VC) right and everything will magically happen from there. Hopefully you can just point to this the next time someone tells you rather than shows you Robert.
Oh hell, I'm putting it on my wall... because you may not always end up personally hooked on something, but if someone's app can't get your attention within the first couple of minutes? They've got a problem - because you're always looking for the next interesting thing, whereas the 'average user' is seldom that eager to find new apps and therefore has even less patience than you do.
Great list. Thanks for taking the time to write it out.
 
robert 'the eating is good where nobody else goes' - tim ferris, 4 hour work week man :)
 
I think that MVP has a place. The +AppsGeyser concept is that a developer can create an Android app really easily on the cheap, get it out into Android Market, and see how people respond to the basic concept. Once you have feedback from real users on the concept, then you know whether it's worth pouring money into it.
 
problem with most startups is they will not spend money, irene charges £600 to train you to pitch, then you give her £800 to enter a room full of people who have paid the same, to be in that room, to pitch and to invest, gets rid of the timewasters - http://www.messagelab.co.uk/team.html
 
very useful to have critical feedback! D'accord.
 
951am in canary wharf london, where is everyone out there ?... as a matter of interest... shout out your location..... robert..plan is for poor kids to get 2nd hand computers from the western world, we to link up rich nations, with poor nations, etc, education for the world etc. and such stuff....ipad 1 will eventually reach schools in tibet, i hope
 
Looks like some people keeps forgetting that Rovio (Angry Birds), Gameloft (Order and Chaos and various games in iOS and Android), Foursquare and numerous other APPS. Was able to build and grow their company because of... APPS.

Rovio built a 0.99$ empire! (Angry Birds is free in Android, not sure in iOS today)
 
There's nothing wrong with providing constructive criticism we all need it from time to time and you're right, the market place is harsher now.

My question is: Have we reached a point where we have too many apps/services doing the same thing?
 
+Andrei Bourdine already I'm bored. There are so many video apps out there, my favorite is ShowYou on iPad. I need to know more, though, to make a good judgment. I'm off to bed, though. Got to speak in the morning.
 
+Robert Scoble there is one..but they do the traditional take a photo stop -align and then take a photo again
 
Robert, OK, lets speak at morning. I'm allways on G+, like you
 
+Jason Palmer don't you think its better developing for multiple platforms then just windows phone? it doesn't have much market impact as android
 
Most of these name drops are actually quite lame and so yesterday - how many more photo or video sharing apps do I really need...more Bizzys to come if you ask me :)
 
I'm not a startup / aiming to launch, but as a brand designer, I am interested in the way funding works and how decisions are made. Haven't read anything that puts it quite this way. Along with my creative brief document for my startup clients, maybe I should include this as an "Scoble's advice to the startup" note.
 
i try find things not started by techies, the always come up with the same idea, i prefer to find wacky,nutty people, listen to their ideas and then hire a team of techies to make it happen
 
Good post +Robert Scoble I've always wanted to break out "on my own" and create or provide something others would pay for, it just hasn't worked out yet.
 
Robert, I totally agree with what you wrote. Still, I hope you're courteous enough with your feedback - these people poured their hearts and dreams into those things (along with VC funds). The hard truth needn't be wrapped in nails, it generally makes it easier to swallow :-)
 
Really interesting points, taken on board a few points for a pitch we are doing later today actually!
 
+Robert Scoble Hell yes. I love to hear your voice in this post. Proves you can be a great champion for startups, but also a voice of reason. With saturation in the space, new apps and ideas really have to excel. It's no longer okay just to offer LBS or easy social integration. If those who evaluate startups push their standards higher, so will they. Big ups to Scoble.
 
Personally, I need apps to survive on my iPad or iPhone and there are so many that I like but don't use often. Even big budget games I don't always play them as they suck in giving you the "incentive" to keep playing after you had completed it.

Robert Scoble is right on that sense and the first 60 seconds into my app review I can give you the review but I usually goes beyond that time limit to find out the "secret features".

However, for an app to be successful they have to consider several things including how users will NEED to use your app instead of existing ones.

Other then making the user feels "Oh that's insanely useful" there's also another goal of making users feels "OMG That's Entertaining! Or Insanely beautiful!" in the first 60 seconds.

Any type of frustrations, errors, bugs, out of placed buttons, troublesome user interface and boring text scrolling can spell trouble for apps.

Apps should be developed out of passion not out of monetary gain, think yourself as the end user not as a entrepreneur.

Questions to ask yourself when developing
1. Are you enjoying it?
2. Is there a better way to do it?
3. Are you excited enough to run out in the snow to show it to your friends?
4. Will it be hassle free?
5. How much infrastructure or money required to maintain the whole system behind the app? (Server & database updating etc.)

It's always best not to hire people to program your app but do it yourself where the ideas comes from, but for music & graphics yes you can get someone to do it for you.
 
Nice, avoiding the American Idol Audition effect... "But my friends and family said I sound like Luther Vandross"... They lied...
 
Great points +Robert Scoble, we need more of you. I remember in the 90's (when I worked in the dot-con boom) how we would go to work, put our keys in the door and hope the lock would turn bc we still had VC money to keep us going.

Today's market is much tougher and start ups need people asking the tough questions and providing the critiques to help them make smart decisions about their future. Keep beating them up. Make them work for the praise. The tough love you give is what they need... whether they like it or not. 
 
+Natti Bar-on I try to be courteous, but sometimes fail. It's tough to see pitch after pitch from companies that just aren't ready to go out into the marketplace. But no matter how I treat people the marketplace is almost always harsher.
 
Good post and I agree with quite a bit of it. As an entrepreneur I see too many people are hopping into the game because they think it's akin to a gold rush when it isn't. Also a lot of startups focus on things that won't appeal to people outside of the techie bunch and don't take into account that the rest of the world is where the money is at. I've been working on an LBS idea for years now and it amazes me how many are hopping in without understanding the basics of the market. Anyway great post.
 
+Dee Johnson and many entrepreneurs think they are going to get "normal people" to use their app when they have no clue about how to do that. Aim at them and often you'll miss them anyway. It's usually better to aim at the head of the snake, convince people like me to use you, then convince the rest of the market to change their behavior. That's exactly what Facebook did.
 
+Robert Scoble - Of course you need to go after those who understand tech to evangelize for you but I'm speaking of tech attempts that only cater to our crowd. As far as convincing the rest of the market my personal philosophy is to look for behaviors that already exist and capitalise off of those instead of inventing new behaviors and trying to get people to follow them.

You hit the nail on the head with with the 'put something out there' issue and that's because of the Google's and FB's that angels press for 'how many users can you get.' I think it's better to have a focused beta and keep expectations low until you have something for the larger market --especially with LBS products which need information in order to work.
 
great post, but i waver on "Make sure every piece of your app at least matches the comp." One route is do less, much better. Less clutter. What good is having every feature the competitor has if you know that users rarely use some of those features.
 
I am not saying this, but this is the best thing I have seen written on the web in such a very very long time!! No BS, I am so freaking tired of all the damn fluff and hype machine misguiding so many entrepreneurs. This is exactly why I only follow a handful of tech blogs. There are so many people who are experienced and knowledgeable but so few who just speak plain and tell you the 100% unadulterated truth! There are really only about 6 people that I always keep up with! Digital media I am speaking to you, stop feeding the hype machine and misguiding entrepreneurs. There are success stories for sure, but DAMN there are freaking everyday failures too! Please keep feeding me the truth Robert! :-)
 
Good advice for ALL Bussiness to heed.
Not just for startup!
 
These days tech startup are like the shops in Sunday faire 
 
There are too many useless startups these days trying to grab some easy money, and it doesn't help that sites like Techrunch glamourize most of them instead of focusing on companies with solid ideas and products. If things have gotten as far as pitching stuff that doesn't work, that means something's really wrong with this industry.
 
I have always dreamt of starting my own I.T. business and many great things have happened in the last two weeks that have helped me realise that it is my future.

Although finding a niche and providing a service is only the beginning, and yet a hurdle I have to pass, advise like this reminds us that drive to be the best out there is the most important thing. Even if you have the best services in your immediate area, why should you feel comfortable? The second you stop improving (or CARING about) your service you are opening a window for another enthusiastic person to build on what you have done and provide something better.

I've bookmarked this article for future reading, you have given me great inspiration.
 
Thanks Robert, it's not just good advice for start ups, it's good advice for life. You're basically saying 'If you want to get noticed and to succeed you have to raise the bar.'

I recently watched the pilot of a new tv show, and my friend was shocked when I said I was done with it after one episode. He asked me why I wouldn't at least give it three episodes, and I replied that there was too much competing for my time right now. If I misjudged and it gets better I can always go back. That's the world we live in right now, and if a product doesn't capture my imagination almost instantly I'm liable to put it down and never come back.

So, basicallly, thank you for challenging young companies to raise the bar -- everyone benefits as a result. 
 
Great post Robert. Solid and honest.

I agree that the bar is much higher now. However, in certain markets/verticals/niches or certain constrained geographies (the important middle glue in SoLoMo), it is sometimes a good strategy to support entrepreneurs to go forward in spite of their products; a good entrepreneur will learn a better lesson the hard way. Pivoting is not just a basketball skill.

My plea here is to support the entrepreneurial spirit separately from actual products and ideas, which are indeed dime a dozen. This "spirit" is much needed in Europe, and less so in your neck of woods Robert. Be harsh on the product by all means, but don't forget to nurture that other side. You're an important voice in the tech scene. Your opinion matters.

Hey what do you think of +Appsfire ? We're an app company ;-)

See you +LeWeb in a couple of weeks?
 
+Paul Stamatiou you misunderstood me. When I said "do features better than your competitors" that doesn't mean that you do all the features. :-) So we agree. But the ones you do better work and work better.
 
all you app junkie fiends are missing out on this thing called LIFE. get over this shit, it'll be gone soon enough.
 
Thank you for this very constructive post. Great food for thought!
 
I can't determine if anyone else said this but... you're 5 years too late on this. Or... you should have been doing this 5 years ago. Perhaps you did in some cases years go, and I applaud the current stance, it just feels very late. The whole industry needs to be more critical. We seem to have been cheerleading anyone with an app or idea living anywhere in SV for the past several years, and it seems to have contributed to the current bubble. Yes I think one exists and we're in it and we'll have a decent pop in the next year or so, just not as violent as last time.

Good luck in your future harshness :)
 
+Robert Scoble glad to see you do this. Recently I spoke sternly to someone who wished to have our firm provide PR services for their half-baked product. Wishing to sell it to the cool teen market, they were actually selling an uncool product--and I don't mean in the reverse cool way. They had a weak idea. I pointed out how products in the same category had grabbed their share of the market with a more complete, well-executed concept and suggested that they do some more woodshedding...and I was told, "you're no marketing person."

People, we PR and marketing types won't work with bad ideas. That's our reputation we put on the line for you.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
 
Hello Robert, great post on a important topic.

I think it is good to have too many startups. When many startups are competing for scarce resources, only the very best startups get the necessary funding, talents and connections. More startups mean more competition and is raising the bar for quality.
 
Awesome post. Very very useful. Perhaps one day I will drop you a line.
 
Great post +Robert Scoble thanks. Good enough for me to forward to a couple of my partners in crime.
 
Know the feeling of waking up with an idea, think about a person to contact... and find out that he just post what you wanted from him, plus answers to my questions? I do hehehehe :D Thanks! Maybe I will mail you soon, but need to work on something :)
 
You can always trust people who criticize you but not praise you +Robert Scoble
As for as SOCL is concerned.. never under estimate a product or service without using it .. for all we know it may not be a social networking site but a social network aggregator site or even a social network search page UI for Bing.
 
I'm just a regular guy in Virginia Beach, so it would behoove the tech work to hear another perspective.

Tech entrepreneurs have to realize that we non-tech folks don't eat, sleep and breath tech. I've got limited time, and can only handle a few apps within a thumbs length. If I don't say, "Wow, this will be a go-to app for me," then it won't make it on my screen. E.g. Flipboard.

Heck, I can really only handle two social networks. For me, one had to drop out (and that was Facebook).

Basically, you've got to bring your A game to garner the attention of 99% of America. 
 
I think +Robert Scoble and +"Mark Jordaan" are missing the point +Joe Devon is making. It's not a question of mobile vs. web, it's a question of web apps vs. stand-alone apps. Yes mobile is rapidly becoming the most important platform, but imho stand-alone apps for mobile have as bright a future as stand-alone apps for desktops (read: not so bright). I agree that there are still stand-alone apps that dramatically outperform web apps today, but how long will that last?
 
This is probably the best and most prescient thing you have ever written. Wow.
 
If we take Michael Thailand and his comment to heart then I think it really makes Roberts post even more important. It is true that we only have a finite time to find apps and to have them improve our life as an end user. There are a couple of things that stand out to me here that I have to agree with wholeheartedly.

If you are creating an app it has to be a killer app in some way, a good idea is not enough because social is not a vacuum it is the only thing in the end. You have to be able to hook up to twitter and Facebook or else no one can evangelize for you and they have no idea how to build in the absence of people

Also, for the "you are not as smart as Larry Page",smart or not you are not going to beat Google or Facebook. They are big and smart so as a startup you need to fully flesh out without directly competing. Great post Robert. I as well am really tired of chasing apps only to find that they are only half of what I need or not integrated enough to pull into my own ecosystem. 
 
Came across this by accident, well said. I'll be following now.
 
So is it a copout to say that I don't think I've got the creative streak... but I want learn more, from other people who are? I don't think I could stand up to +Robert Scoble's criticism. I'm still too much a novice at the development stuff... but I want to get good, and be around good people, and learn.
 
Great post, Robert. Spot on!

If you watched the CNN show 'Black in Silicon Valley' last weekend, it was interesting to research the nine starups and what they represented.

I think a few needed a good shake. One or two had promise, and several were plain duds.
 
I agree so much with this post. I can name countless times where I haven't said what I really feel about a startup because I didn't want to hurt feelings. That needs to change.
 
Nothing wrong with being harsh, as long as it is constructive and objective.
 
I am with you +Robert Scoble. Like you, I get many, many pitches every day. It is part of our job to separate the good from the bad. I get a lot of people asking me why I didn't cover their company. There are a variety of reasons for this. There is a popular question we get along the lines of "how do we get our company covered by ReadWriteWeb?" Replace RWW with TechCrunch, VentureBeat, GigaOm, TNW, AllThingsD and, yes, even the great Scobleizer, and it is the same thing. If you are a company that I have covered before but I do not like your direction, I will write about it. If I find a startup that I am fond of (recent entries include Crashlytics out of Boston, BeIntoo out of Italy and Apsalar from San Fran), then I want the world to know who you are and what you do. Where I differ from you is that often times I will not be harsh on the startup. I will just ignore them. There are so many good ones out there for me to focus on that I don't have time for your re-shaped Path competitor or yet-another tweet scheduler (though, I was the first to cover Buffer, which I respect). The bar has been set high and we are in the job of finding the next wave of great tech.
 
I am finding myself in the position of being harsh towards people who send me music. All this is done behind closed doors but sometimes people just don't want to hear it.
 
Sounds like you need to start talking to companies who are actually trying to build a business and sell something instead of those who are just looking to get bought by Google/FB/MS/etc.

Start asking the founders you interview how you can buy something from them, if they get all nervous and awkward show them the door. :)
 
+Scott Watermasysk Very true. Many startups today are just features waiting for a product. They have no intention of actually running a business.
I raise an eyebrow to anyone who is pitching a product and they can't explain how they plan to monetize it.
 
Maybe you should focus on small, independent app developers who aren't looking to raise VC money but just want to build good solid products. You have a powerful voice, perhaps you should use it differently.
 
"You really think you're better than Larry Page and Vic Gundotra? Well, here's a hint: no you are not."

I agree with pretty much everything you said Robert aside from the point you made about google+. It's not innovative and only comes across as a fierce competitor because it's a google product! If a small company released it, it would be thrown in the social network pile within a week. It's a blander rip off of Facebook no matter what anyone thinks or says, with a couple of additional features. The reason Google+ is failing is not because it's a great product but Facebook is too powerful to beat, but rather because they invested a lot of money instead of brains and serious innovation to deliver the next level of social networking. Reminds me of what Color did. They got loads of money and got overexcited instead of sitting their asses down and getting a fierce product out there that kicked ass. They had all the money they needed. What they lacked was vision and a good understanding of the market. All I see is new social networks constantly coming out promising a whole new user experience but simply ripping off previous networks almost entirely. Not just small companies but the tech giants, as well. And they aim to take down Facebook with this approach? Don't make me laugh. Go back to the drawing board and get your shit together folks. Money means nothing if you don't have the brains, spirit, crystal vision and resilience to deliver punch.

Google just doesn't get it Robert. I predicted these losses their having the second I got an invitation. I was very excited to see what Google would bring forward and in the end, all I got was Google Minus. So honestly, bad example.
 
Hey Scoble check out Waze - a new FREE GPS app WITH FREE VOICE and some humorous features .... actually works better and simpler than GPS Drive which I actually paid for ... http://www.waze.com/
 
Robert, i think it's totally reasonable for you to raise the bar - we have moved on from MySpace/1999 etc.

Keep up the good work.
 
Here's the twist Robert - those companies that can take your criticisms and suggestions and do something versus those that are too headstrong and stupid to listen. Give the first another chance, the second are too lost already.
 
great stuff +Robert Scoble your frank advice to startups is so valuable. glad you give them a few shots at getting it right.
 
Great post Robert! As I continue to push forward on my own venture, reading this advice and the comments which follow only help keep me in check. To date, I have not gone out to find VC money, but rather have been laser focused on creating a usable, useful and delightful experience and the advantages it brings to the people/businesses who engage with it. It is the end-to-end thinking, as well as, the building a solid foundation that has enabled me to reach current milestones. Of course, imagining how the conversation would go after you ask me "who are you?" also serves as twisted inspiration.
Dan B
 
I have to respect a dude that can accept a huge gift from a winery and then give them a lousy review. But I have to say, I would respect him more if he had a policy of not accepting gifts from people he's reviewing.
 
You know Robert, I appreciate you saying this. I really feel as though some startups are enhancing features by maybe 10% and then calling it better. We, (yes me too) can all try to be way better, and more slick looking.
 
++1 -- Brutally honest advice is gold -- everything else is bullshit and no one needs more of that crap.
 
It's better to tell a harsh truth than play along and look like the asshole for not telling the truth.
 
I remember sitting in the Atlanta JungleDisk offices right after an interview with you and Rocky (for Regator) and having a great, long challenging argument about all kinds of stuff that we didn't agree on. It opened our eyes to a bunch of stuff. Very valuable. I do however think there is a difference between being honest and harsh. Some people don't get the difference, sadly. There's no need to put the boot in...
 
Too many people are worried about pitching "the community" or to investors. How about selling to and keeping actual customers?

I hear "start-up" and I think about a kid dreaming of being in the big leagues someday - something that's lusted after but the reality of which is poorly understood - "this idea is so huge, so important!"

Not happening. No one gives a shit. Talking about work and doing work are two very different actions. The future big leaguer takes batting practice, he fields thousands of ground balls, he does this for years. No one watches. No one cares. He does it because he loves it, because it's fun. It's not the individual swings that are hard, it's the lonely journey of a person putting in the work to perfect their craft. "Getting rich" is not a craft. Success is a responsibility that's earned and appreciated over time.

Talk is cheap regardless of how well it's funded.
 
Nothing I hate more than people telling me what I'm doing right.... The short warm fuzzy feeling is quickly replaced by "What have I really learned from the meeting? Harsh feedback, while not always true, at least turns on the blinking red light - "A flashing red signal light means "STOP." After stopping, you may proceed when it is safe. Observe the right-of-way rules." - taken from the CA DMV website.
Baba G
 
Fair enough be harsh on the entrepreneur(s) and have thm bring their A game on, but I think you have to also be harsh on the Venture Capital world as well. After all you state people tell you that their investors asked them to ship out and fix later etc. You kinda add that you expect them to fix problems etc but a lot of times when you have investors having a different agenda than the startup there is a issue. Sure they could have chosen the wrong investor etc but a lot of times you are in a bind and you accept the terms and conditions for the investment.
So next post you do maybe you can write about how so many VC's and angels have invested in crap and also write about how they are just playing Russian Roulette hoping always one of their investments clicks. The only thing I see happening is the cost to the money bags has come down so they throw 100 more darts than in the past.
But Mr.Scoble would do better to pull out all the stops and write about their shenanigans too, after all things cant happen in a vaccum.
Kudos for the article in calling CRAP crap...
 
As some horrible advice - mixed in with some really great nuggets:


> 1. Have at least one very clear, and cool, use case. I.E. have something you can show someone else that makes them say "oh, my, that's freaking useful."

Definitely. The reason you'll put up with most new products is because they allow you to do something awesome. If they don't, it doesn't matter how slick they are - they are unlikely to amount to much.

> 2. Make sure every piece of your app at least matches the competition. The other day I was using a consumer electronics pricing engine and the search just wasn't working. Oh, really? I still might run their video but it sure doesn't feel good.

Horribly advice for early stage startup. Be insanely great at solving a real problem and look for innovators or early adopters to pick it up. To cross the chasm (yeah, it's old, but it's still valuable) you will need to be close enough to the competition in all of the areas that your users care about (but avoid the fallacy of "best of breed"), but to get things started, be awesome at something and find users who'll help you to smooth out the rough edges.

> 3. You gotta bring something really useful and new to the market. "But we let you search your past locations" isn't good enough. I can do that with Google and Foursquare. Telling me "but we have better social network features than Facebook," isn't good enough. Google has spent half a billion on Google+ and even IT is struggling to get people off of Facebook. You really think you're better than +Larry Page and +Vic Gundotra? Well, here's a hint: no you are not.

Again, agree 100%

> 4. You gotta make it easy and make it work for all users. We live in a world now where we give apps only about 30 seconds. OK, maybe 60 seconds. Instagram hooked me instantly (and the entrepreneurs LOADED THAT APP FOR ME). One entrepreneur showed me their app this week, which had +MG Siegler on it. "Give it to me right now," I demanded. After they resisted they admitted that they probably wouldn't be able to deal with my contact list. Another company tonight that I met showed me a similar app, when I started it up (I do that while you talk to me) it gave me an error. Gone.

Horrible advice. You don't need to make it easy or make it work for everyone. You will eventually if you want mass market adoption, but start by creating something so cool that innovators will put up with the rough edges and validate that anyone cares about your app at all. Once you know that people want it and see what they do with it, THEN start to smooth out the rough edges.

As for "all users" there are LOTS of businesses that aren't interested in attracting everyone - just in delighting a meaningful subset.

> 5. Your product must match your story. If you tell me "we're going to help you find great TV" but then you force me to build yet another social network first, I'm going to feel ripped off. So many companies present one thing, while saying another.

Another great point.

> 6. I hate the term "minimal viable product." That's like telling me "we're shipping without any features because, well, our investors and advisors told us to ship and fix the product later." Good companies do ship, but they pick the right features and they ship magic. Siri? Magic. Flipboard? Magic. Instagram? I had five comments within two minutes (and that was back when there was only 80 users on it). Tonight I used SocialCam again for the first time in a while. Within 60 seconds I had likes and comments. That tells me that that system has users and has a feature set that gathered lots of users (the CEO has a whole story about how they hid their best features and users keep praising them -- the future version he showed me tonight is making those features easier to find).

Nope. That's like shipping a little core piece of magic and validating that people want to purchase potions and spells. Once you know your incantation is exciting, you can then put all the details needed around the app to make it work for the mass market. Don't burn months polishing a turd. See if people will play with the concept and fall in love. In fact I'd argue shipping a junky gem is better than a polished turd. A junky gem shows (a) that people want the solution you're providing and (b) that they want it so bad that they'll put up with the junky bits to get to the gem.

> 7. If it doesn't do something with both Facebook and Twitter (with Google+ to come) then you are gonna look lame. Why? I watch 33,000 of the world's best users and if they aren't using your app I probably will delete it after a few days and forget it. It's amazing how forgettable so many apps are. The best ones? Keep getting discussed and shared over and over and over again. How many times have I seen Foursquare used? Evernote? Instapaper? Mint? Foodspotting? Instagram? Thousands and thousands of times.

No opinion on this one. May be true, there may be exceptions.

Peter Bell
 
I agree with +Scott Watermasysk - I really want to hear you start asking people "How do you take money that's not in the form of investments?"
 
I will def quote this to you one day.
 
The bar for "minimum viable product" keeps going up as well. It may make sense to ship and iterate but you need to ship the WOW and iterate the small details not the other way around.
 
Robert, bringing people products that flounder in the marketplace is not what makes your brand "go down", It's being full of shit that turns me off. We've spoken many times and spent time together in your home and abroad. You've been very kind to me and my start-up. You've gone way out of your way to help us behind the scenes on more than one occasion. In your our words... "One app I’ve become addicted to over the past month is...", "I’ve found it to be more engaging than Instagram", but you rarely use it.

Getting behind our app takes vision, and you have that in spades. We showed it to you first and we still have a lot of work ahead of us before it's truly a magical way to share life. It crashes, freezes, it's ugly and it's missing a lot of the standard features people have come to expect on day one, but sometimes that comes with the territory when you build something with your own blood sweat and tears. In many cases like ours, you and other members of the vocal tech community are the only "angles" we ever need.

When our community hits the tipping point, I won't be surprised to see a blog post from you saying... "See... I told you so!!!". What would be surprising to see is you using the app... despite it's flaws, well before the herd.

Paul Robinett
 
90% of everything looks silly. startups included.
 
This just became my pre-ship checklist.
 
Couldn't agree more. It's too easy to launch a startup. It's more difficult to launch and run a business that actually makes money. Great post.
 
"So, I try to be humble about it..." HAHAHAHAHA! Funniest thing I've read all week. Good one +Robert Scoble
 
+Peter Bell Love your candidness in your reply. Agree with your criticisms, especially on MVP.
 
Sounds like there is an opportunity to offer marketing 101 bootcamps for startups since all of this is common knowledge taught in business school. That would enable them to put the "V" in MVP.
 
Scoble: this is your best post in ages. Fully agree that your brand goes up if you support great companies - as opposed to every. single. startup. in. this. planet. Be harsh or critic if needed; everybody wins - including the entrepreneurs that will have to up their game for the next time.
 
+Josh Ledgard I ask every company "how do you make money." Every single one. It doesn't matter to me if they are venture backed (most are) but you can judge for yourself if they make money or not. By the way, I'm an end user. Whether a company is making money or not doesn't matter much to me. Google+ isn't making money, yet it's here. Heck, Xbox lost a lot of money for first six years of its life and it's here. If I judged whether companies were making money before looking at them I'd be mighty bored indeed.
 
+paul robinett I like your app, GLMPS. It's just that I have 300 apps and it's hard to stay addicted. Whenever I shoot video I usually want to record more than five seconds. That's a feature request I gave you, and it makes my enjoyment of the app a lot less than it otherwise would be. But part of what gets me back to Instagram is the community and the virality of its growth. I have 16,000 followers there, so even though I like your app's feature set better, it gets me back to "feed the beast." That's one thing that separates me from normal people. I care about serving those things that have huge audiences since I'm trying to build a media brand. There are only so many apps I can use when I'm using the camera on my iPhone and your app actually is very well done (much better than some of the apps I've seen lately).
 
+Scott Watermasysk I totally disagree with you. My favorite apps/companies, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Waze, Flipboard, Rovio, Foursquare, 955Dreams, Camera+, Instagram, Yelp, Foodspotting, Hipmunk, Expensify, Mint, are mostly ones that do not sell me anything. What a boring world it would be if companies needed to sell me something first.
 
+Peter Bell good points. >>"to get things started, be awesome at something and find users who'll help you to smooth out the rough edges." That's what I was trying to say, you said it better. The apps I've seen that I criticized aren't awesome at anything.

Regarding Minimally Viable Product: >>"Don't burn months polishing a turd." I believe you really do understand what Eric Ries is saying. Many don't. That said, I remember when I first saw Flipboard. I said it isn't good enough, and asked Mike to put in Twitter list support. He says that's their most important feature. He listened to customer feedback and didn't give me bullshit about MVP. Many companies don't listen to the feedback and try to ship. Color, for instance, never even came to the marketplace for the feedback (which is a horrid mistake, almost unforgivable actually, given how successful Instagram was). They tried to route around users by launching in the New York Times with a "MVP" product. Problem was the UI wasn't done and no one could figure it out.

I'll talk more about this with Eric on December 1 on a webinar we're doing.
 
+Robert Scoble What I'm saying is that if you are going to be more critical of the experience you should also be critical of the business model. Obviously Instagram has the momentum where they can find a way to "charge" their users through ads/selling data. But for a copy-cat to do that is going to be a lot harder.... hence require extra scrutiny since they don't have the user momentum. And you do ask great questions about how they are going to be different.

The model of how a company makes money directly impacts the user experience. Google+ obviously isn't here out of the kindness of anyones hearts. As a user I have a choice to use the Google, Twitter, and Facebook "free" services. I'm paying with my data and my attention. So the model of how a company makes money does impact my experience. (See Facebook testing banner ads above feeds or twitter promoted tweets.
 
Many folks out there who are smarter than me should just write these points down, and literally use them as a start up check list. Why not? Take it where you find it.
 
Robert, I'm seeing the same trend you are -- more startups pitching half-baked ideas that, even if they worked, would represent only incremental improvements over Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Evernote, Instagram, Mint, etc. As a result, I'm saying no to a lot more startups -- and I'm feeling a little more jaded and cynical about the Silicon Valley scene in general. I detect a bit of that in your post too.

What I try to tell myself, and what I'd tell you, is that being an entrepreneur is just as tough as it ever was, and takes just as much courage and creativity. The "problem" today's newbie startup people face is that Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. have raised the technological bar substantially, so it takes even more work to come up with something truly new and useful. Your harshness behind closed doors is probably necessary medicine, but I hope you add a dash of encouragement and constructive feedback. (Knowing you, I'm sure you do!)
 
Thanks for the shoutouts; we've got a long way to go ourselves so keep telling us like it is!

Wanted to share this related post that I read and appreciated a while ago too -- "Advice to advisers: Stop being so nice." http://www.humbledmba.com/advice-to-advisers-stop-being-so-nice

"This is hard to say, but I wish they had believed in me less. Encouraged me less. Supported me less. I wish someone, anyone, had put a stop to my foolish ideas. I'm incredibly confident and stubborn. I believe I can do anything. So additional support is kind of wasted on me. What I really needed is someone that could break through my confidence and tell me straight that I was being an idiot."

The challenge is discerning when someone telling you your ideas suck is a matter of opinion or truth. People have all kinds of opinions about what Foodspotting should become or shouldn't do (focus on food! expand into fashion! become everythingspotting! etc.) so knowing which voices to listen to is the hard part.
 
Don't piss in my ear and tell me it is raining. Truth > BS.
 
Joe Devon and Robert Scobel: apps will be important, but business plans that show how they become revenue streams and a real business matter still. I've spoken with plenty of investors that have stories about seeing cool apps they'll never invest in because there's no path to a business. On the other hand a cool app can be the foundation for a well thought out business. Outside of the top 10 apps you discussed - (and even among those) how many have a real revenue that can make them a long term business? Valuations are getting high but they're not linked to revenue ( or income - sorry Groupon), this is starting to sound like they're partying like it's 1999 again...
 
Great post. Quality does matter. And I think you captured the goal beautifully...ship, but ship with magic. I think there is room in the crowd for new ideas and maybe more importantly innovation. Lots of our technology could still be a lot better and I'm sure some very smart people are working on making things better.
 
Hi Robert,

I didn't say companies have to sell something right out the door. And there are certainly companies who can provide great services without the need to directly charge their users (hipmonk). However, most of those companies you list are simply hoping for a miracle.

I love Instagram. I use it all the time. And while I know nobody at Instagram personally, I can help but think they are cowards. They are not willing to say, "We created something of value, we should be paid for this". When users complain about features/changes/etc they have no way to prioritize who to listen to. They have no way of knowing who are the free loaders and who will actually pay them to keep the lights on.

FB/Google/etc are exceptions to the rule.
 
+Scott Watermasysk the problem is that if Instagram charged it would never have gotten where it is today. That said, I agree with you. I always expected Instagram to sell filters. I know I'd pay for new ones to make my photos better. Or, I'd pay for new features, like stats/analytics, or putting a custom brand on my Instagram page, or, heck, turning on a web page. :-)
 
I agree with +Peter Bell that some of the advice given is bad advice. Since this post has been circulating in my entrepreneur circles as key advice to read, I wrote a post with counterpoint advice: http://blog.fastfedora.com/2011/11/avoid-this-advice-from-robert-scoble.html . Some of which mirrors Peter's comments.

After reading your comments, I think you understand the subtleties of your advice. But those subtleties didn't come through in the wording of the original post.
 
Robert, I completely agree with you but I think your scope is a bit off. There's a big world outside of the Oinks, Instragrams, and Colors. I hate to think that in order to get on your radar, I have to be a "valley startup". Every startup you've mentioned is of that particular flashy style. Frankly, I boil your article down to a single question that SHOULD have been asked more vigorously to almost every valley startup in the last 3 years: What's your competitive advantage?

I think anyone that answers that question with "It's like [twitter/instagram/oink] but...." should just go home. That kind of answer doesn't get you funding where I'm from.
 
+Nick Allain most of the companies I interview are from outside San Francisco area. But you totally didn't grok what I am saying here.
 
I probably should avoid reading long posts and replying before I've had a lick of coffee. My points get a bit scrambled. I love the what you've outlined things but as Simon Sinek says: ask 5 why's.

"The bar has gone up."Why?
"Because no one was harsh enough with it."
Why was no one harsh enough with it?

If I could speculate, I think your that last question speaks to a larger problem. We're increasingly more eager to boil startup processes down to a single line.

"Release early, release often."
"Iterate publicly."
"Fix it in post"
"Release an MVP"

People need to stop and look behind the reason for the advice before following it blindly. I think one of the worst things a potential investor can do is listen to a pitch, then give advice they got from a book without taking the time to explain it or ask the entrepreneur to read it themselves.

I'm where I am because I've gotten great harsh advice. In a lot of cases, I've gone to people that conventional wisdom would say "You're an idiot for pitching a tech startup to mechanical engineers" but the result is that I get better advice from them than I would from the milieu that conventional wisdom says I should focus on. There's never harm in being harsh or challenging entrepreneurs to do better. We NEED it.
 
As a member of a startup that has been interviewed by you this post really rings true to me. This is a great post with a lot of insight that anyone in a startup should read and take to heart.
 
+Robert Scoble This is wonderful. I was just telling a friend today about how I'm always getting web series creators who want my opinion on their show and I try to evade them because I think it's bad. I wish I had the cajones to be critical, but I just feel so guilty.
 
+Casey McKinnon I feel bad too. I just can't deal with the inbound. This was my attempt to signal to the marketplace that the bar has moved (the world is kicking out so many startups now that it's clear it has).
 
While i think it is good to be critical and tell the "truth" to these aspiring entrepreneurs, i also question the need to hashtag certain name like Larry Page or Vic.

If there's anything, i want people to think they can be better than Sergey, Larry, Jobs, Gates etc. and there will be. We can't be of certain too if some of these ideas that we initially thought will fail or rejected won't be successful in the future. (I saw the usefullness of Saas - ASP back in 1999/2000 - but it just so difficult to take off in Asia)
 
On point. The bar has been raised. We're close to launch and one product mantra we have come up with to guide us is "lean not lame". 'MVP" and "ship now and iterate" won't raise the bar unless the "magic" is in there.
 
I love this post. The first person who told me what I was doing wrong with my first startup was the first mentor/advisor I respected and whose counsel instantly because priceless. I still seek him out to this day, years later, because hearing the harsh truth saves me time and money in the long run. I don't need to hear my startup is great (I already know that :) - I need to hear why it sucks!
 
Sound business advise +Robert Scoble but you started with Why I'm treating startups more critically lately but all the comments (read them all) where about apps or social sharing platforms. If I´m correct only one company which makes physical goods was mentioned in passing. GoPro, a really innovative company which is reshaping vidcams and got a piece of a very traditional market dominated by large companies.
There are numerous smart people inventing new tech in labs, shaping it into products, and generating serious business when they succeed. However they are not mentioned in your post nor in the comments. Are physical products declared dead for the VC world? Is there no interest and funding for companies which will just grow organically?

I notice the same when reading TNW, TechCrunch etc. I have been at the cutting edge of technology my whole life but ´we´ made and make things you have to sell or need to ship. I´m not talking about the difference between downloading and buying software but about actual physical products. High tech stuff like phones :) Or thousand of other things like graphic cards or 3D glasses. Whatever. There are many companies trying to make new exciting stuff and a lot still originate in the US or Europe, but I never hear any of these VC, startup day, glamour stories about them. True, you can´t start in your dorm and get rich in a year, but it´s still a cornerstone of our economy. When the West no longer cares and just gives up it will lose out the East.

Would it even make sense to pitch a product to you which has to be produced, shipped, distributed and possibly repaired? It´s no criticism but I just wonder where that part of our economy went?
 
I think you are being mis-interpreted in discussion of this post elsewhere. I would assume the MVP is fine for many kitchen-table and dorm-room budding entrepreneurs. It can be a valuable and efficient way to develop a product. (Assuming they listen.)
 
links? +Kevan MacGee

+Max Huijgen do you work with those companies? I agree it's going to take a whole new approach to business and a whole economy to build an economy.
 
Yes +Valeria Maltoni I do and for a very long time. There is an amazing amount of ingenuity out there but it gets harder and harder to get these companies funded. I often wonder if Steve&Steve of a certain Apple would have gotten any capital investment with their silly idea of building half manufactured unwanted machines nobody knew about which would just create logistic and support nightmares and would make nobody a quick buck.....
 
and yet so much trading is done based upon promises never kept... +Max Huijgen must be late in your part of the world.
 
It is +Valeria Maltoni but isn´t the same true for you with such an Italian name.
off topic aside I hope +Robert Scoble will do a new run of comments and catch mine as well.
 
It's clear you are not the right person to show an early "minimum viable product" to. But, do you think that building a minimum viable product for a select set of beta users can improve the chances of building something that is worth showing to you after further iterations? Are you critical of "lean startup" process in general or only the timing of showing products to you?
 
+Max Huijgen hardware is tougher than starting an app company, but VCs fund lots of hardware companies, like SeaMicro, servers.
 
+Noah Thorp I'm critical NOT of lean startup methodology, but of picking a lame set of minimally viable features. THAT is very different. Next week I'll be talking to Eric Reis about this.
 
I know it´s much harder +Robert Scoble Just wanted to point out it´s an almost forgotten issue while most of the most valued companies in the end produce tangible products. Posted about Apple´s job creation (or better: lack of ) here https://plus.google.com/u/0/112352920206354603958/posts/jfC2uEPoASz
The 250 million dollar question however is if with the current mindset anyone would have invested in two Steve´s who wanted to produce a DIY kit for a strange device called computer?
 
I read your post in full on Business Insider, but I wanted to post a comment here instead of there site.

After getting half way through the post, and it is a proper rant, I felt "who the hell does he think he is", but by the time I reached the end I realised that you have a valid point. Money is being thrown around at all sorts of start-ups at present (not at mine...well not yet), and I think more people need to weed through them, if anything to prevent teams from wasting there time, or at least to give them better focus.

That being said, great things can come from the inevitable pivot. It has happened before.

I remember when yourself and +Jason Calacanis started following me on Twitter, I'm sure you have some bot that does following for you, but it did give me that buzz and a push to step up my game on my own start-up. It is food for thought that things that well known people like yourself and Jason do and say, can mean much more to people then you think. In my case I thought "hey, I must be doing something right to get there attention".

I hope one day that my bootstrapped start-up I'm plugging away at by myself, will get seen and judged by the likes of you and Jason. And if myself, a lonely coder and founder from a small town outside of Southampton, UK, can get some constructive feed back from you guys, it'll be well worth it. But until then, it's back to development.

Matt.
 
Good article. I'm a student Computer Engineering in Belgium, maybe in a few years we'll meet up. Who knows :) I'd be glad to for sure!
 
Good stuff here. Thing is harsh does not equal mean. People avoid being harsh to avoid being mean, but that's not helpful. So many painful ventures could be avoided by people just asking some hard questions from the get-go.
 
Telling someone that their idea is not good is NOT being harsh.... Honesty saves everyone time and money... good for you....
 
Hey Robert, I just saw this post. This might be a long reply because it's my startup, Bizzy, that kicked off your rant. You and I talked a lot about Bizzy and what we were doing and why we thought that what we were doing was different. After shutting it down, we've got a lot of 20/20 hindsight and should woulda coulda's and I feel like I could do a graduate level course on what we'd have done differently if we had another shot. That's what happens when you fail, you find out what doesn't work. But one thing we got right is that we built a product that our users loved. And that's something that our entire team is very proud of.


You make the claim that we failed because nobody was harsh enough on us. I take a bit of exception to that. You weren't very harsh on us, true. In fact, you posted on us twice--which was nice. Thank you. We appreciated that ;) And why did you and others post about us? I'm guessing it wasn't completely out of altruism. After all, we were one small player in a very crowded space. You probably heard from a lot of apps like ours. If someone wanted to write about apps that help friends discover great places, there's no shortage of them. I'm assuming (or hoping?) it's because our pitch on why what we were doing was different and better struck a chord.

But not everyone was complimentary. +Jennifer Van Grove was pretty harsh on us when she was at Mashable. She wrote a post there where she basically said "Don't bother." And she did a piece on Techi with +Schneider Mike at SXSW where she argued about why we wouldn't make it. Some bloggers wouldn't even talk to us. Everytime we got feedback like this, we huddled up and tried to figure out why. What was it that Jenn said that we can learn from? What was it about our pitch that resulted in that one guy from that one blog never replying to us? We tried to take all of these things into account as we refined our product, our positioning and our message.
One of the things you rant on here is Minimum Viable Product and it's not the first time I've heard it. There are two problems with it as I see it. First, a lot of startups forget about the Viable part and just ship Minimum Product. That's doomed to fail. But you CAN ship a minimal product that's viable and iterate on that. Flipboard was minimum viable at the beginning...just the services they needed to integrate and no more. I think that if you look closely, you'll see that the startups you praise in here got their MVP correct. The ones you scorn, like Color, didn't. In my opinion, shipping too little is a lesser problem for a startup than shipping too much. Ship too much and you've wasted money. And, as we know all too well, when you run out of money, you die.

The second problem is that sometimes you don't really know what's going to make your product viable. You'll have a hypothesis, but you've got to put stuff out there and see what works. And in order to know what works, you need users. And to get users, it helps to find bloggers who will buy into your vision talk about your stuff. When we first talked to you about Bizzy just before SXSW, we had minimal product, but it wasn't viable yet. We found that out after you (and a bunch of other blogs) posted about us and a few people came and gave us a try and we saw what was happening and learned about what we had to do.

I guess at the end of the day, it doesn't matter much if bloggers are harsh or if they love you. In our case, we saw both. What matters is if your users are harsh or if they love you--and as an entrepreneur, if you can tell the two apart.

So anyway, the closing of Bizzy is a long story that has a lot more factors than just the product we built. It's a story that's probably best told over beer. So if anyone would like to hear it, feel free to let me know. If we've learned something from our experience that will help another entrepreneur get over the hump and build something awesome, I'd be happy to share that.

In the meantime, I'd like to encourage other entrepreneurs to keep shipping things, keep trying things, keep testing things, and if you get harshed on by a blogger, don't worry too much about it. Try to learn from the feedback they give you, get up off the mat and come back swinging.
 
+Ryan Kuder GET AN AVATAR, THIS IS A @$%*ING SOCIAL NETWORK! How's that for harsh? ;)

Kudes, I'm sorry I wasn't harsh enough on you. I really thought Bizzy was on to something. Sure the UX was wonky, but the recommendations were good and I love that you added much needed sentiment to an experience. BTW - according to a tweet I got from @dens, they are now playing around with similar internally. I think it was easy for Robert to rant about a company that has already closed its doors instead of calling out a company like say - RDIO which has a superior UX to Spotify but is probably doomed to mediocrity (or worse). Very few people will go back and check the facts and see that he liked your stuff.

I can't wait to see what you do next. My only regret is that you guys were next in line to buy lunch. #resetbutton
 
wtf is that? it looks like worms or something! D:
 
+Robert Main it's a bunch of small fish in a Chinese restaurant in China that I took a picture of.
 
This post encompassed the thoughts I've had for the past while as I've been job-hunting. I've interviewed with start-ups, I've interviewed with big companies before, I worked at a post-acquisition "start-up", and I've come to a few conclusions.

Out of all the start-ups I've interviewed, there were various reasons nobody gave me a job. The best was (paraphrased) "You really want to go to graduate school, and there you belong, but we love you anyway." But there were just as many reasons why I had so little desire to work at, or even apply at, so many of these companies.

1) You do social? What's the point?

2) You do analytics? Who cares enough to pay you for the accumulated analyses? Aren't you basically just monitoring and spying on all the people who live real lives in the world, rather than living yourselves? What have you created?

3) Out of the various bunch I've looked at or interviewed with, I can use the principles described in your G+ post (and elsewhere) to immediately think of the "short list" of who I would fund if I were an investor. I won't name them, but I can tell you what fields they work in: textbook publishing (or rather, getting rid of conventional textbooks), television (or rather, making television something more much friendly to its user-owners rather than its corporate overlords), and 3D printing for the masses.

4) As long as the market for investment money is flooded with the crap described in (1) and (2), and with buzzwords like "iterating" and "minimal viable product", it suppresses my desire to do the network-attached storage start-up idea I had a few months ago.
 
I tell off companies and PR people all the time. It's not part of my job description to school these people, but useless pitches and startups are a waste of my time.
 
can any one tell what this is?
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