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This sounds completely bizarre. If your ideas are such that they can be stolen and executed upon by others trivially, than a job at Facebook (with a signing bonus) is pretty damn impressive exit.

Given the timing I think it is pretty clear that he is talking specifically about YCRFS7. If you're building something on top of a platform there is always the danger that the platform provider will decide to incorporate your product as a feature. There is certainly a lot of precedent for this — in recent years Apple, Twitter, and Facebook have all done it.

Say what? Posterous isn't rocket science, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't consider a signing bonus at Facebook impressive.

Posterous is out in the open for everybody to see. Why hasn't Facebook "killed it", then? Understanding user behaviour and preferences is part of what makes something defensible. Not having to build a product to operate at Facebook's scale (and expectation of reliability) at day one is a way to help discover people's preferences, especially for a "new idea".

There is no startup success that this argument can't attribute to the intangible "understanding behavior and preferences", and no signing-bonus exit that the same argument can't dismiss the same way.

My point is simply that there are a lot of very straightforward ideas that merit far more than a signing-bonus exit.

Can you elaborate on "understanding behavior and preferences" with some example behavior and preferences, please?

There are many bases of competitive advantage, but I don't have a clear picture of this one. The main customer-side advantage I see is that your product becomes identified with the idea/technology in the customer mind (perhaps of a tiny niche) - not that it's better than something else, just that it exists. But there's still a problem of getting to this state.

Greenspun has an even better explanation of this than I do:

The most reliable source of supranormal profits is superior knowledge of one kind of customer (Way #3). Ideally this will be the kind of customer that larger companies are overlooking. The founders of SAP, for example, were employees of IBM Germany for many years and got exposed to the accounting challenges of large manufacturers. When they quit IBM, they were among the best situated programmers in the world to build an accounting system for manufacturing companies. It is not because these guys were the world's best programmers that SAP is today bringing in $10 billion per year in revenue and has a market capitalization of $60 billion. It is because these guys were the best programmers who understood the problems of their customers.


Thanks! Domain knowledge - but applying this to a mass market feel a bit mind-bending to me.

Of course, it's still problems and knowledge, and so not qualitatively different from those in a specific niche. I guess the misleading thing is that by the time a mass market is mass, they are well-known (or appear to be). As an example, Youtube was once small. And while the consumers were perhaps (?) easy to understand, the producers (who created the value), were a much smaller group, a more specific kind of person, using specific new tech (mobile phones) with specific problems. And it only later grew into a mass market (though I guess arguably the producers are still "one kind of customer".)

Ideas can always be stolen. We've had so called investors try to rip us off left and right. Don't think Facebook isn't capable of the same.

>Ideas can always be stolen.

Ideas can never be stolen. If I have an idea and tell you about it, then you use it, I've still access to that idea and can still use it too.

Yes I worked in IP for a time. Yes I'm a pedant. But there is a very important distinction both morally and legally between theft and copying (eg tortuous IP infringement).

Tell that to someone who's had an idea copyrighted/patented and used without their permission.

You mean like when those guys making the JMRI model train software that had some jerk company take their code without respecting the OSS license, then patented something they'd been doing for years and counter-sued them for infringing that patent when they tried to get them to respect the license?

Yeah, I'd call that stolen (or at least 'attempted theft'), because they were about to lose their rights. Thankfully, the JMRI guys won in court, so they got their rights back.

Facebook has the money and scale to implement anything they choose to. Trivially or not.

Yes, just like google, right. Google video completely obliterated those youtube upstarts. Oh, wait.

That a company has the money and the scale to implement anything they choose to, trivially or not does not mean they will actually succeed in the marketplace.

Small companies doing one thing have something big companies do not: relentless focus.

YouTube has a social network behind it. That's what Google bought, because to date they have yet to build one of their own.

What a startup can create that a large company cannot steal would loosely be defined as a social network; mind-share among people who believe that your company is the go-to place for your service.

If you have built your service on top of Facebook, it will be very difficult to build your site so that you, and not Facebook, are what your customers thinks of when they think of your product. If it's truly a killer Facebook app, they will likely even be happier with a slightly inferior but fully integrated solution. Because they control the social network, the mind-share, that fuels your app.

Google could have waited until the bandwidth costs and the lawsuits from Viacom ate them alive. Remember, Youtube hasn't even become profitable yet. Google already had a capable clone. They just lacked the community because they were a late arrival.

If Google's Sergey, Larry, or Schmidt were as ruthless as Zuckerberg, I have no doubt that Youtube would have been left to die.

Or Google could have waited until youtube was bought by Microsoft. Or Viacom. Or Disney. Or Apple. Then they would have had a formidable competitor with a significant advantage.

Things just aren't that simple.

I doubt every other company on that list could have made it successful. Even Google with all its "dark fiber" bandwidth has not been able to make it profitable after 4 years.

Viacom is simply not interested in running a money losing venture, otherwise they would have bought Joost instead of partnering with them. Disney didn't need the Youtube brand when they already invested heavily in go.com back in 1998. Look what happened to Hotmail dominance after Microsoft bought it. And what is Apple's experience with web apps?

So yes, things just aren't that simple.

Google didn't buy Youtube out of goodness of their hearts. If it wasn't them, I'm sure there was plenty of other companies that were looking to purchase, and I'm sure at least some of them have the necessary resources to deal with bandwidth/legal issues

I never said Google bought Youtube out of kindness.

I said that Google had the option of letting Youtube weaken, and buy them at a discount...or fully letting them die out and have Google Video dominate. Each decision with a different risk/reward ratio. They chose the lowest risk/reward since $1.6 billion is probably a relative drop in the bucket for them.

They just lacked the community because they were a late arrival.

And I could have bought McAfee, I just lacked $7.7 billion.

Google is expecting YouTube to become profitable in 2010.

I'm trying to understand. I think youtube beating google was due to network effects: youtube had enough content that it was hard to displace (it was actually more valuable.) Secondarily, it had mindshare (people knew about it.) Possibly, they "understood user behavior and preferences" better (strlen mentioned this intriguing one), and they used this to make it easier to use (slightly more valuable + massively more adoptable.)

Relentless focus on the above factors (content, mindshare, usability) helped them win - have I missed any?

First mover advantage. Youtube was synonymous with online 'canned' video, google with 'search'.

By parking it under the google brand they may have made a mistake. Another - possibly small - effect of that is that you have two steps before getting to a site, video.google.com, is less convenient than youtube.com, and much less easy to promote as a brand separate from the search portion of the site. Many people read 'video.google.com' the same way they promoted 'images.google.com', as a search engine for online videos (which it now has become, for the most part) instead of an easy way to share your videos with your buddies and the rest of the world.

I don't think it will be possible to quantify this effect, but I notice that microsoft named their search engine 'bing.com' after several tries of doing it as a subsidiary, and that google has not attempted to bring youtube.com under the google domain as the replacement for video.google.com (which still exists), it is now the 'search' arm of google for video, returning youtube.com mixed with other video results, just like what you'd expect.

Thanks! Interesting, a strong brand can be a negative.

Further thought: google video was 'better' in that it had higher resolution videos, and it displayed more of them on the screen at once. While youtube had one low resolution video. It was quicker to load and to run, and more suited to slower machines (perhaps especially mobile phones, whence videos oftentimes came?) Google video has always annoyed me in this sense. I note that now, they've increased youtube video resolution (it's 'better'), and also snipe: upgrade to a "modern" browser. Although understandable, it isn't the path to max adoption, and max. network effects

Maybe you could do a write-up on all your findings and how they mesh together, it would make for interesting reading.

Thanks, I appreciate that and might do it, though I don't yet feel I have more than my write up of 2 months ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1508379

Implement and succeed are very different things.

If you want a job at Facebook then apply directly. Building an entire business just to get hired at a company seems excessive and contrary to the reason most people start their own business.

That was (sort of) my point. If you build something fairly trivial and not defensible on its own, "talent acquisition" is a rather good outcome.

Not completely true, sometimes being first matters.

Most times, it doesn't.

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