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Predicting failure ..., or knowing when to quit.

For an interesting read on Scott Adams' (Dilbert) approach on knowing when to quit check this out. Ignore the comments though! Seriously! People with far too much free time seem to have turned the blog comments into a full-rambling-discussion board.

To emphasize one point Scott made, it's extremely important to have that last "10%" be extremely excited about your product. Sure, the 10% may not necessarily be statistically accurate, but the idea is very important. If you don't have a truly impassioned user base for your product or service, there's a good chance it will fail. The other 90% don't matter initially -- whether they like it or not (eventually you'll need them though unless the 10% meets your goals). You need a small group, the 10%, to drive your product, help "advertise it", and much more.

Of course, getting those 10% impassioned users doesn't guarantee a success. Very little does. Without them though, .... Think about how many restaurant food chains started as a tiny place, with no goals of growing any bigger. Locals flocked to it and got excited, which got more people, and slowly the tiny restaurant grew from one location to several to many to ....

I was at an Internet startup company back in 2000 for a total of 3 months. I saw the writing on the wall when the Chief Technical Officer announced a new direction for the product company: "I'm known for taking a company, turning it on it's head and creating a whole new direction overnight...." Or some such bunk like that he said far too frequently. He decided to do this while I was there (much to my dismay). Instead of sticking with the product I had thought I was helping to build, we retargted our audience to be significantly smaller and also to a very unlikely set of adopters. That was month 2 into my long career there. By month 3 I had left (thankfully!). The company and all intellectual property was acquired a month after I left -- it was acquired for the staff, not for the product itself. He made the absolutely STUPID choice to go after a group of people, that for so many reasons, wouldn't fit our product:

  • It wasn't going to be compelling (we stripped features left and right so that we could release something)
  • It was not going to run on the computers they likely owned (we were suddenly writing Windows software for a group of users who, if they used computers at all, had Macs)
  • The users didn't need our software -- they had long standing workflows that weren't going to change to our new system without a significant gain.
  • Not a single user would adopt our technology without some sponsorship or kickback. You can't buy an impassioned user.
  • The number of total possible users dropped from literally 100's of millions to many thousands.
  • They wouldn't want to use it. (see point 1)

Ironically, if we had stuck with the original plan (the reason I had joined in the first place), we should have made it. There are plenty of web sites now 6 years later that finally do the things we had started in 2000. I was one of the lucky ones who saw the writing on the wall and left before the fall.

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