People don’t want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.

You’re the Silicon Valley superstar. A potential technical cofounder that biz devs drool puddles for at every Hackers & Founders event. You drop investor names like it’s hot. You’ve probably worked on a startup or two, scaling hot products and releasing iterations like a mad man. So fly, you probably don’t need plane tickets to your next destination, which in all likelihood is yet another incestuous startup event.

But your shit still stinks because you can’t grow membership of your hip new user generated content geolocated mobile experiential status update image relevancy service. At least you grabbed a good base in SF. We grow early adopters and power users like weed here. Or weeds.

What’s the fundamental flaw in your product model, brosephus? Check the boxes for minimum viable product, got Crunched, and gobs of money. Lean startup values with fat marketing a go.

Despite this:

You haven’t removed a pain point.


You haven’t fed into users’ vanity.

Mark Hendrickson’s insightful post-mortem for Plancast explains the later point:

Most social networks feed primarily on vanity, in that they allow people to share and tailor online content that makes them look good. They can help people communicate to others that they’ve attended impressive schools, built amazing careers, attended cool parties, dated attractive people, thought deep thoughts, or reared cute kids. The top-level goal for most people is to convince others they are the individuals they want to be, whether that includes being happy, attractive, smart, fun or anything else.

Fantastic. Did your service make me feel like a drunk god? Or at least Keith Richards at 27? Too bad.

But I don’t rely purely on vanity as a motivating factor. Did you solve a pain point for me or did you simply replicate a process with a prettier logo? How many steps does it take for me to get through?

Testing out your idea with an MVP is sometimes the only way to figure out if you can hit on either point. But I can offer you an even simpler strategy: Ask someone without Asperger’s what they think. Does the idea make sense to them? Would they actually use it more than once? No, really, don’t hold back. Harsh common sense feedback could save many a startup.

Take this college-aged hot shot who asked to meet with me about marketing for his company, which was going to be like Facebook, but you used it to meet people IRL. Aside from telling me how Facebook worked, he let me know this would be amazing! And everyone will use it! And he’ll use “guerrilla marketing” – something I probably hadn’t heard of – to MAKE IT HAPPEN. He already had $1 million in his account for this, and several investors I respect behind it. And now, months later, no traction to speak of.

What he should have been told from day one: If you’re socially awkward, you’ll use the app and then never go forward with actually meeting a matched person. If you’re socially awesome, you don’t need the app. Aside from all this, lasting relationships and chemistry can’t be artificially constructed. Or it’s extremely rare.

He was marketing to a nonexistent audience. He was also hoping the coolness of the technology would speak for itself, that its impressiveness was enough to encourage use. Perhaps once or twice, I could see this working. But when your service relies on a vast network of people frequently updating and checking, you can’t rely on interesting UI. Compelling UI that causes frequent use is what you need. Understanding your audience means knowing that they’re not interested in a spiffy quarter-inch drill; ultimately they want to use that drill for a quarter-inch hole. What you really need to sell is an easier way to put a hole in a wall.

I suppose what this rant all comes down to is learning how people work. Think why we’re fond of the path of least resistance, or how we like to meet people – naturally.

Photo credit and obvious analogy: Because I don’t want shiny pieces of metal; I want a camera. Also, I just broke this down for you.

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