Cigarettes are one of the most successful consumer products on earth. Inhaling a lungful of carcinogenic smoke several hundred times a day is undoubtedly a stupid idea. Tobacco has made a small number of people incomprehensibly rich, to the great detriment of humanity.
Personally, I think nearly all of these 'social' startups are bad news. Not as bad news as a lung cancer epidemic, but bad news nonetheless. I think they feed a culture of passivity and attention deficit. I think they fragment human interaction into the smallest possible dopamine-inducing units. I think they're essentially Skinner boxes in disguise - apps that dress up an intermittent schedule of reward as meaningful activity.
The startup culture talks the talk about "changing the world", but in truth most of us couldn't care less so long as we get our next funding round. For every Watsi, we have a hundred bullshit companies with bullshit products, providing yet another means of idle distraction for indolent westerners. We can hardly distinguish between what is worthwhile and what is popular or profitable. It has hardly occurred to Curtis or anyone in these comments that an idea could be both successful and stupid.
Is Pinterest really an innovative sharing tool, or is it merely a collaborative exercise in commodity fetishism? Is Vine really a radical new way to communicate, or is it merely the nadir of audiovisual culture, fragmenting the world into six-second shards of nothingness? Do we even care?
An example, i clicked on the above link and assumed i was on the website Medium, but then i saw that he was the creator of svbtle, so i decide to check it out, assuming it might be a fashion site, then i realized that svbtle is the site i was on. It seems like the only place seeing any real product differentiation and innovation is the hardware space right now.
Svbtle's announcement is dated March 22, 2012
So, I think Dustin deserves some credit for originality on this one.
I was right there with you until this. What do you mean "it's not a terrible thing"? Someone trying to change the world for the better, and they fail, that's not terrible? Someone giving up on their dreams, is that not terrible? Sure, sure, everyone has to pay the bills, and I'm not going to fault anyone who tries and fails, but it still (at a minimum) disappoints me every time I see someone with talent and/or skill waste it on something of no lasting value or meaning.
Tobacco was invented in 5000 BC according to wikipedia. At that point in time it had basically none of the bad side effects you mention due to shorter life spans. It probably had numerous positive side effects.
Now you don't like facebook??? Well, honestly, I do. I like it to keep in touch with people and it had real value to me when I moved to a city where I didn't know a single person as it made me feel less alone. I'm sure many others have benefited.
Judging a startup, company, etc. because you don't see the value shows you are overly judgmental and immature.
The product market has been very good at delivering value over the last 7,000+ years. Let it do its job and try to get off your high horse.
The companies mentioned are highly successful. If you think you can do it, feel free to do it, donate the cash you make to Watsi and sit in your recliner while enjoying how good of a person you are. Otherwise, make a comment that adds value like the OP did.
Full disclaimer: I couldn't care less about any of the companies mentioned, I'm just sick of reading comments like this.
 added an n't to could
Another reason that tobacco historically had "basically none of the bad side effects" is that people didn't smoke it nearly in the quantities they do today. Then a few startups (well, they weren't called that back then) came along and it "has made a small number of people incomprehensibly rich, to the great detriment of humanity".
> Now you don't like facebook??? Well, honestly, I do. I like it to keep in touch with people and it had real value to me when I moved to a city where I didn't know a single person as it made me feel less alone. I'm sure many others have benefited.
Strawman. Nowhere in his post jdietrich mentions Facebook.
> The companies mentioned are highly successful.
No one argues that these companies aren't successful. The argument is that the fact that they are highly successful does not mean that they are a good for society as a whole.
> I could care less about any of the companies mentioned
You mean, you couldn't care less, right? :P (Sorry, that particular Americanism is a pet peeve of mine.)
I find the phrase, "I could care less" charming. I'm not sure if it was originally intended as simple sarcasm (or more likely a misspoken phrase) but to me in its form it has a gentle subtlety. A slightly tongue-in-cheek, "typically when discussing the amount I care about a topic, it falls within an average range. However on this particular topic, I care for it so little that I must be explicit that it would actually be possible for me to care less. For a more meaningful topic, such a statement wouldn't be necessary."
also, I slur couldnt care less when I speak bc I have no idea the right way to say it!
"I think nearly all of these 'social' startups are bad news" (emphasis added).
This allows that some "social startups" might be a good idea, and is not (at least, not as I interpret it) an argument against social media in general. Besides, Facebook has long stopped being a "startup" so this comment does not apply to it.
As I understand it, jdietrich argues against the recent trend of "socialising" every aspect of our lives through increasingly frivolous apps that provide instant gratification but lead to shallow and superficial interactions.
This does not mean that you can't have meaningful interactions through social media. Your example of using Facebook to keep in touch with people when moving to a new city is an illustration of that. However it does not invalidate jdietrich's argument in any away.
"I could care less" is an American idiom, and this is a US site. Ad hominem.
Also please go learn what "ad hominem" actually means. It does not simply mean "insult".
Then again, I'm not a knee-jerking grammarian prescriptivist.
Tobacco is a natural leaf that became a mass killer because it was packaged in small, easy to consume units that provided an instant dopamine hit, then relentlessly marketed. I feel it is an extremely good analogy to the current crop of 'social' startups.
Businesses exist in order to make profits for their shareholders; The benefit they provide for their customers or society is merely a happy coincidence. Until the Pure Food and Drug Act, most medicines did more harm than good. Asbestos was incredibly profitable for a great many businesses. I have every right to criticise a business if I believe their product is harmful, regardless of how popular or successful that business might be. To do so does not make me judgemental or immature, but simply an engaged citizen. The belief that all successful products are socially beneficial is clearly absurd.
>Success is not validation of an idea and we should be ashamed to think so.
To me, it is the very definition of success. If you think that a product is harmful you can state that, but belittling its success because you don't feel like it is best allocation of resources sounds very similar to what the governments of both China and Russia did prior to the cold war and some might even go as far as to say it is a somewhat communist view.
I admit, when I read your comment, I skipped over this by accident:
>It has hardly occurred to Curtis or anyone in these comments that an idea could be both successful and stupid.
There is probably an interesting debate here from a finance perspective on what should and shouldn't be invested in at the early stage. (or what should or shouldn't be worked on). I'm not smart enough to know what is stupid or not stupid, but it is still an interesting concept.
I think we can at least agree on that point.
Side note: I'll admit that there is no single objective interpretation as to what actually constitutes a "good idea," which further complicates the issue. I just figured "net positive contribution to society" was general enough to make my point.
Maybe after a lengthy analysis, you may come up with a good list of points and counter points, but to whimsically dismiss some of the fastest growing websites in the world without even making an attempt to show how they are not a good idea is not a worthwhile comment.
But none of this is what Dustin's post was about.
The post was about people asking him if he thought their product could be successful, and how he mistakenly dismissed them as being destined to fail.
Your views maybe valid, but your commentary is off topic.
On the other hand, you say, "This is the WORST type of comment on HN...I'm just sick of reading comments like this." Please try to be civil -- Hacker News normally has such a positive community.
I am willing to be a real asshole for the first time on HN because I just don't get this type of comment. This is constantly garbage and it makes me so frustrated to see people who think they are better than someone else because they decided to pursue what they think is right whether or not they are actually right.
Do you ever stop to think what the impact of technology on society, and human relations, is? It's not 'garbage' - it's not proven right either, as society hasn't disintegrated any further than the 17th or 18th century, but I do see an impact in how little people talk to each other, in the addiction to feel-good gratification (or instant gratification - why else am I reading HN?), and in attention span.
To my reading the OP doesn't think they are better than others. When you've had a chance to reflct I'd be interested to know the reasons behind your reaction.
I was recently at a startup event in Los Angeles, where the terms "Silicon Beach" and "change the world" were mentioned at least a dozen times. While I love that Los Angeles, for example, is trying to create companies and products/services in the technology space, making another photo sharing app or social network is most likely not "changing the world" in any way whatsoever. Not to mention the stupidity that is the "Silicon Beach" name simply because it "sounds cool" and "they're making stuff in Silicon Valley, let's call ourselves Silicon Beach."
I think the problem lies with the current culture and crop of young people who think success and innovation is attained by spending a few months making an app for iOS. They see success stories like FB, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., read TechCrunch about who raised what round, memorize the terminology and assume that a derivative product will be equally successful. Doesn't work that way, for 99.99% of people/products.
I also think this might be another trend, a sort of app-bubble so to speak where real technology will eventually take precedence over all these bullshit "companies" that are basically applications for an Apple built ecosystem riding a wave a VC money. I want to believe that because we are in a dire state of innovation. There are TONS of real world problems that need to be solved and if more people applied themselves to really "change the world" we would have some amazing companies sprouting up. Perhaps the app-cowboys will continue to battle each other in the Top Charts while seeking Series money to simply get acquired by an even bigger app-company. It's unfortunate we've reached this point of technology, something that wasn't as prevalent before the iOS/smartphone days. Let's see what happens.
These applications are toys, not the future. They may be well built, popular, amusing but they are still toys. When I think of someone who sees the future and tries to build it, the first name that comes up is Elon Musk with SpaceX. There are others.
Saying an iPhone exclusive application that lets you share 4 second videos is the future is simply insulting to my intelligence.
Perhaps it is our moral obligation, as the market is primed and ready to pay for Skinner boxes, to take as much of that money as possible and, say, give it to the Gates Foundation or somesuch?
If we don't, someone will use that opportunity to build Farmville.
> Is Pinterest really an innovative sharing tool, or is it merely a collaborative exercise in commodity fetishism? Is Vine really a radical new way to communicate, or is it merely the nadir of audiovisual culture, fragmenting the world into six-second shards of nothingness?
How about both? Framing and "meaning" are individual, subjective concepts. If we want objective benefit to society, our goal must be to make as much money as possible in the most efficient way we can find, and then use that money to effect change.
Case-in-point: Tesla's use of an immediately viable business model (sell luxury electric cars to rich people) to gain a bunch of money/experience to make mass-market electric cars to sell to everyone (which will then presumably benefit society).
I guess there is a subtle difference between changing the world and making the world better.
Did Pinterest change the world? I bet it did - it has heaps of users. Those people would spend some of their time in a different way if there was no Pinterest, hence - world would be different.
Now, did Pinterest make the world better?
And, to answer your final question, no, I don't really care. I grew up being lectured on how TV was the "idiot tube", so the idea of of society being full of people wasting their time is something I've gotten quite used to.
They're not strongly correlated. Cigarettes are commercially smart and morally stupid. Charities, in some sense, are morally smart and commercially stupid, assuming they do good for the world and don't make a profit. As entrepreneurs, ideally we'd like to find something both morally and commercially smart.
A lot of things we now take for granted started out as terribly stupid ideas. What use was a radio when there was only one radio station in town that operated a few hours a day? Why would I want an automobile that uses expensive gasoline and requires a mechanic when a horse is nearly free? Who, other than a Fortune 500 CEO, would want a phone in their car?
Yes, there's a lot of vapid ideas out there that are worthless, maybe too stupid to amount to anything, but a few crack through and are just the right kind of stupid they catch on in the hugest possible way.
It's like how a movie can be so bad it's good. Sometimes an idea is so stupid it's brilliant.
But what's the point of life if you don't have art, joy, entertainment?
If you love art, what makes enjoying beautiful fashion, destinations, decor, creations somehow lessened and put into a bucket of fetishism.
My girlfriend loves Pinterest as a way to take a few minutes from her busy working schedule and relax and appreciate the beauty of the images and participate in a community.
I'd suggest countless millions of women around the world feel the same way.
I can refute that directly. My wife uses Pinterest to learn about recipes, craft projects for her and our kids, cleaning tips. Sharing this information with your community is the definition of culture.
Social media is a huge value to a transplant family living in a far off city from their family all so the husband can work in his chosen field.
How do you define 'meaningful'? Pinterest has millions of users. It's contributing something to the culture, but whether or not it's 'meaningful' kinda gets into No True Scotsman territory.
I quietly dispair at the shortened attention spans and clamour for 'likes' and 'follows' that have resulted... Whilst I browse Instagram and refresh Facebook. I am a walking contradiction...
Unfortunate, but true. Everything is suddenly an app. Is there a difference between 'social' startup and 'tech' startup? I think the culture, particularly the media, is making those synonymous for the worst...
But my own approach is to think that actually getting the energy to make anything in our culture that generally tries to separate the content creators from the content consumers is an amazing achievement, and I try to avoid diminishing peoples enthusiasm to make stuff even if I think it's dumb.
"Tobacco has made a small number of people incomprehensibly rich, to the great detriment of humanity."
incredible isn't it how we still allow manufacturers to sells products (at considerable profit) like this that have been proven to make people ill, or at worse, die.
Maybe they do. Cigarettes are solving the problem of easy nicotine intake to release stress.
I think (not sure) a lot of successful new-media companies are solving the "low self-esteem" problem a lot of people cope with these days. They act like a drug.
But ofcourse a better way is to solve the source of the problems: remove stress from society, change culture in a way that we can become who we are (whole).
I'd agree that some good ideas (i.e. ideas that survive) are solving problems. But "solving problems" is only a (decent) heuristic for good ideas, not something that causes them to be good. Satellites stay in orbit by tricking laws of physics into not crashing them on the ground, and not because they're useful for us. In the same way, ideas survive by tricking social dynamics, not because they're solving some problems.
(someone currently giving up)
But at the same time, I personally love smoking tobacco when I go to a park for camping. Recommend you to try it smoking tobacco from a pipe with properly steeped ceylon tea in the middle of a forest where you can only hear the the nature and enjoy good tobacco.
We shouldn't be dismissing every company that is not a Watsi!
* Survivor bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivor_bias) is yielding a self-selection in the positive results. I'm sure there are plenty of stupid ideas that went nowhere. Probably as much as "Great" ideas that went nowhere. So, I think saying that his opinion that something was stupid is a counter-indicator of its degree of success doesn't have much merit.
* Second, an idea or early prototype has little correlation to its inevitable success or failure. As is often said, execution is everything. The idea is necessary, but not sufficient to guarantee a market success, as defined differently by different markets.
* Third, while he decries his stance as calling something "stupid" as an arrogant position, this article itself comes across as arrogant -- in effect he's positioning himself near the beginning of these companies' inception and being in the position of being asked his opinion in a taste-maker fashion. I suspect in reality, he was one of many people that were exposed to this idea and his opinion was mostly irrelevant in their efforts to pursue the idea. It can be interpreted as very Forrest Gump to position ones self at the crux of so many eventual market successes when in reality that is not the case. I'd like to understand the context of these meetings. I've certainly been at the early-stages of many ideas, but no one asked for, or cared about, my opinions. In which case, saying that they were stupid ideas was an opinion offered only to myself. And I probably did indeed think they were stupid at the time. Was I arrogant? No. But then I don't claim that anyone cared about my opinion.
* Finally, I call your attention to Pinterest's actual success path (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinterest and http://www.famousbloggers.net/history-pinterest.html). They iterated and "failed" for 2 years before becoming an "overnight success". I dare say that perhaps at the time of the meeting, Pinterest's idea and execution were probably stupid, and it took time and relentless iteration to make it a success. In fact, "Silbermann said he personally wrote to the site's first 5,000 users offering his personal phone number and even meeting with some of its users." Which goes to show just how many people's opinions he solicited in the process of building to its current level of success.
It's really easy to dismiss and poke holes in peoples' ideas. The funny thing is that you usually walk away from that feeling pretty smart and full of yourself because you're mostly right.
Then you find out that you called it all wrong. And if you're introspective, you'll realize that you weren't just wrong in your thinking in the moment, you'll remember that you are actually a flawed, small person who knows very very little.
Early on, when I knew even less than I know now, I had a conversation with a guy named Gary Chou who then worked at USV. He's a model for me on how to treat a green person starting out. He didn't seem to be trying to answer the question, "does this suck?" or "can this be a $100M ARR business?" When we talked about what I was working on, he really sought to find out what was interesting about it, how people were using it, and what it could mean and become.
Realistically, skepticism is the only rational response, considering the odds of a startup succeeding.
If you're at a roulette table, your friend plays number 32 and he asks you "Do you think 32 is coming out?", you should feel neither smug nor bad for saying "I doubt it": it's simple statistics.
More importantly, startup returns aren't like roulette returns. Say we hold a friendly roulette game where the house doesn't take a cut (to simplify). If you bet $1 on every number you win nothing. On the other hand, if you're an angel investor and you bet on 100 startups, you win as long as a couple of startups hit big. Being wrong 95% of the time can really pay off.
Of course, what is rational depends on your goals. Some people get nothing even if they "believed" in an early startup. For example, it's possible OP wasn't a potential investor and as such wouldn't have gained much by holding a different belief about Pinterest anyway. Also, some stock analysts and tech journalists get away with making bad predictions, as they manage to point out only their good ones.
I don't think he's trying to show any superiority by telling us the details of how his conversations went about.
I agree that one should give all ideas the possibility of success. But it's just human nature to judge things as stupid or smart. And as the animals that we are, our opinions largely don't matter in the grand scheme of the universe. Arrogant or not.
Just because you think something is dumb doesn't mean it isnt a viable business model.
People sell virtual rubies to people building ruby houses all day every day, and that is dumb.
I also still think they are dumb, and I think twitter is dumb too, fwiw. Things can be "dumb" (which in the context of describing a product/service is mostly subjective) and wildly successful.
I don't see why anyone would be surprised by this reasoning as it holds for tech/web companies just as well as it holds for popular music or popular tv shows -- there are many of each of these things that I think are dumb (which is to say, "not for me") and yet they are wildly successful.
Well, maybe in a business sense, the idea was not wrong if you could gather enough fools to back you up, but that does not make it less of a stupid idea.
Given all these factors, its clear you can't have an objectively stupid or smart idea. I think the only right questions you can ask are "How are you going to execute on it?" and decide whether or not the founder is stupid or not. I'm not sure there are many people on the planet who can, given the idea for Instagram, sell it for a billion dollars.
At the end of the day all you really have is your confidence in an idea, and confidence in the founder's ability to execute on it. Knowing whether or not an idea is stupid really requires a sort of omnipotence on your part. Was it the right time? Instagram would be a stupid idea in 1995. Did the founder execute well enough? Was the market too small? There are too many variables that go into deciding whether an idea is "stupid" or not.
I don't think that's what's Curtis is saying at all. He's just saying that it's better not to call startups ideas stupid prematurely, because we can't really tell.
That said, I think you make good points.
I don't really approve of it, but recipe porn is less harmless than other ways to spend time on the internet.
It's exactly this sort of thinking that is the problem these days. They don't just "have a few options." If it were so easy, they would've done it by now. But it clearly isn't.
That said, one of my VC friends defines an Entrepreneur as someone who can take a stupid idea and make it successful. Sort of an homage to the whole idea that they can see something you cannot.
These days when I'm confronted by this sort of proposal I ask the person making the proposal to describe the world where their idea has succeeded. What is different about that world from today, and what is the same. What do people do in that world that they do differently now or can't do at all. And perhaps more importantly what do they do today which they no longer have to do.
If you can paint that picture in enough detail you can figure out who is going to be working against this person and who is going to be cheering this person on, you might get a sense of how much work is between here and there and the kinds of people needed to do that work. And if you know this person well you might be able to guess whether or not they are up for that, or perhaps more importantly, committed enough.
1. sell to the lonely and impulsive who are willing to trade money for attention (Also see: therapists, people who run cons on the elderly, everything else involving real interaction with a woman in the sex industry); additionally, take advantage of the sunk-cost bias to keep people after they would have otherwise "passed their limit" (Also see: casinos)
2. run advertising campaigns that separate the world into "good/beautiful/healthy/upper-class people" and "bad/ugly/disgusting/lower-class people" by which kind of products they use, then position yourself as the most convenient/eminently-consumable product in the "good people" product class. (Also see: deodorant, diamonds, hybrid cars)
Perhaps the largest example of this would be Wave. When I first heard about Google Wave, I was incredibly impressed and immediately signed up for the beta. I really did think it would replace email and IM--it was an elegant solution that did both, at the same time. I then played around with it, rather liked it and even got some friends to use it. I was still trying to use it well after almost everyone gave up on it.
I was rather disappointed in its ignominious decline and eventual death.
I also really liked webOS. All your apps would just be web apps! It would be great. It wasn't.
I really loved the Zune HD. It had one of the best interfaces I had ever seen and was incredibly capable for its price. I still have mine, and I still like it, mostly. I've had people on the subway ask me about it simply because they didn't know what it was :P.
A disproportionate number of the things that I get really excited about--rather than just interested in--seem to fizzle out. Maybe it's just selection bias, of course. I imagine the contrast between my expectations and reality make things stand out more. But it does seem that the more enthusiastic I am about something the more likely it is to flop.
Right now, the technology that I'm really excited about in a very similar way is Rust. I hope it breaks this rather annoying trend! It's basically the only new programming language that I genuinely like and don't view as a waste of time and space. I honestly think it will take off, but that's what I thought about all the other examples too.
I guess this doesn't have much to do with the actual article. It's just a lament about my own misplaced enthusiasm. But it does feel better to have written about it :P.
Wave was essentially a social network that your friends couldn't get invites for if they wanted. It was a hugely hyped ghost-town. Wave was a tech preview because it was ungodly slow and made some questionable UX decisions (like badly reimplementing the scroll bar) - Google would have been embarrassed to call it a fully-fledged product. At the same time, they hyped it up like one, which led many people to pass judgement on it too soon, while the ones who wanted to use it either couldn't get access or didn't know anyone who had access to write to.
webOS, from everything I've heard, was quite good. Unfortunately, the history of Palm didn't leave them enough resources to grow it organically - it was a high pressure do-or-die launch with rushed hardware that was universally panned. They didn't have enough resources to wait for good hardware to pair with it. They also banked on Verizon covering the marketing budget, but Verizon famously used Motorola's Milestone to launch the DROID brand instead. (There's a really interesting article from the Verge about it.)
I don't know enough about Linux or Zune to comment on those, but you got excited about webOS and Wave because you saw the promise of the vision. The execution is what bungled both.
It died because it was sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow.
That being said, I ended up being a big fan of it, hoping Google would eventually get around to fixing some of the obvious issues (they mostly didn't, though it did get slightly more responsive before it died).
Why was I fan? I didn't think of Wave as a thing to do, like Twitter (you tweet), or Facebook (you friend and post), or a blog (you write a journal)...there never was a way to "Wave", just like there isn't one way to "e-mail". It was just a new set of communication tools that you could assemble however you wanted.
It's no different than using e-mail to plan a party in one case or send photos to your mom in another case or applying for a job in another. E-mail is just a tool, the use-cases fall out of how you use that tool.
For some reason Wave seemed to look like a solution in search of a problem, but I ended up finding several existing things that were better solved in Wave than with the existing workflows. The most notable was organizing a group around collaboratively writing a large document. Structured correctly and the work just kind of "fell out".
The mistake with trying to use Wave was always in trying to use all of the features in Wave.
I really miss it and am very glad to see bits and pieces of the idea slowly percolating into other Google products (Drive for example).
And I was at google then :-(
The primary reason you don't see it around is that Ubuntu has such a large market share of the desktop Linux and chose Unity as the default. And few people bother (or know about the possibility for that matter) to change from the default even though it's trivial (apt-get install ubuntu-gnome-desktop). But remember that Gnome 2 used to be the default and quite popular (i.e. everyone had it because everyone had Ubuntu).
Now of course, I'm biased - I got pissed off with Unity, tried bunch of various desktop environments and settled on Gnome 3 and I really like it. The dynamic creation & removal of desktops feels strange at first but is so convenient after a while that I miss it everywhere else.
1) Google Wave -- a confused mess of a mail/im/web/social offering that didn't exactly knew what it was and solved non problems.
2) Gnome 3 -- Gnome 2 had languished for years. Why would 3 change that, especially since most of the changes planned were incremental ho-hum stuff combined with arbitrary rewrites of core technologies sure to take them years to complete?
3) Zune. Nuff said.
Notice how you say that "The Zune guys were 6 years ahead of the rest of the business" and "it was an expensive MP3 player launched when MP3 players as a category were being consumed by more capable general purpose devices" (so, behind the rest of the business). It can't be both.
The whole product/ease of use/market/ecosystem etc (which is what matters) was subpar. And the market had much better products already.
Also, I'm not sure why you tout the Zune UI/UX work either. The only thing it had going for it was the visual look, not the feel or the interaction. So it was mostly a pretty graphic design, not a great UX. Same for Metro/Windows 8. It's not like that got any good reviews. Mostly a mismatch of traditional Windows and an out of place, and quite restricting and ill-thought touch UI. Oh, and it's not like Windows Phone got anywhere either. Nice looks, as a concept, but they forgot that design is how it works -- not how it looks.
Zune & Zune HD had extremely favorable reviews, both from critics and customers. It was a solid product with a solid ecosystem. Engadget's review recommended it primarily on the Zune Pass and Zune Marketplace components. CNET called it "the best portable music and video experiences money can buy", while highlighting the subscription music integration. PC Mag's review called it "the best PMP you can buy outside the iTunes universe". This sentiment was industry-wide. There was nothing half-baked about it; that's not why it failed in the marketplace.
That was just the usual BS they pulled trying to get eyeballs by declaring an "iPod killer". Even the Dell Ditty got some favorable press under that premise.
Wouldn't base much on CNET, Engadget and PC Mag reviews, anyway.
It also didn't really help Microsoft that the only enthusiastic adopters of Zune were Apple haters that didn't have iPods but desperately wanted some piece of technology to develop an emotional attachment to.
I distinctly remember my friend's boyfriend (now ex-) making snarky comments about my iPod, then picking up a Zune and making remarks like "it's already more popular than the iPod," and other quips that were laughable even THEN.
Funny, I also knew I hadn't read a single good review from a reputable source, and I read Engadget a lot back then. They said the Zune sucked:
"We've got things we like, and things we don't; rough edges to go right along with the well thought-out niceties. We came away underwhelmed and not at all surprised -- and why? The expectations were for Microsoft to deliver a "Microsoft" player and system; maybe not too shabby looking, but not very usable, and definitely bug-ridden."
Also this hilarious play-by-play where Ryan couldn't even get the damned software to install:
Oh, and that glowing PCMag review you've generated from your nether-regions?
"When we tested the Zune market place the day of the launch, the store refused to let us log in, but the company seems to have worked out the bugs now."
"So to buy one song you need to pony up at least $5. This is irritating."
"The Zune software works pretty well, but the content offerings are nowhere near as robust as iTunes."
"We also found the battery life also a bit disappointing."
"If Microsoft can boost its battery life, broaden the video support, and make it easier to download podcasts, the Zune could provide some healthy competition to the iPod. Until then, the iPod will continue to reign supreme."
Zune failed because it failed to even be a good ripoff the iPod.
> Oh, and that glowing PCMag review you've generated from your nether-regions?
The quotes were quotes, you can search them to see where they came from.
- Seinfeld: Who is this guy, really?
- Frasier: Come on, a spinoff? (So, I didn't realize spinoffs were a thing)
- Twitter: Haiku and vanity plates for the Internet.
- Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream: Salty Caramel, you've got to be kidding me. I don't want salty ice cream.
- Arrested Development: Wait, Jason Bateman. He was so bland on The Hogan Family.
- There's Something About Mary: Their promo seemed ripped off the Zelda commercials, or that's how I felt.
- Blogging (Well, Live Journal): Do I really care what other people are doing?
- Scrubs: I don't know, I just didn't like the idea.
- Freaks and Geeks: How dare they try to explain what it was like to be adolescent me?
- McGriddles: Sausage, syrup and pancakes?
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Slow animals doing karate makes no sense.
The only common thread I can find in these things is me. I have no idea why I had negative, visceral reactions to these things. It's gotten to the point where I try to pay special attention when an idea causes me to have this reaction.
Another deceptively awesome dessert is chocolate with pepper in it. Sounds weird, but its actually one of the original ways that cocoa was enjoyed.
What kills me about ice cream is the immense popularity of all of the stupid "Ben and Jerry's" style knock-offs that use a 10:1 candy:ice cream ratio. When I want to eat ice cream, it doesn't mean that I really want a candy bar.
Totally agree on the "Ben and Jerry's" comment. I want really good ice cream first and foremost. If you can add a touch of something delightful to enhance the flavor, perfect. I feel the same way about cheese cake.
I think it's as simple as others are saying: in a market full of humans, making sense is not a dependency of success. and many of us justify the things that succeed after the fact.
If we're dismissing things for good reasons, I don't think we should try to inhibit our reasoning in order to just be less discriminating. Instead, the magic (or at least seemingly magic to engineers such as myself, when it works) of marketing is to account for and scrutinize based on the irrational.
I'm not sure Vine is yet a "success". I don't see a lot of activity there yet. My (completely biased and limited) litmus test for social apps is to see how many of my non-techie friends get on board and how quickly. With Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest, that was pretty quick. Vine seems to still be lagging. It's too much work for the payoff for most people, is my gut feeling.
Care to elaborate? My interpretation of Pinterest is really "visual social bookmarking."
The main use of Pinterest is to show your friends and everyone else what good taste you have. "Look at this collection of bridal dresses I like!" "Check out all these vacation spots I want to go to!"
If you just wanted to collect photos of these things to give yourself ideas, you wouldn't need to share it with everyone. So you have an easy way to show everyone how cool all the stuff you like is, and by extension you are, with very little effort on your own part to actually create or realize (i.e. actually do work) those things into being. Sure there are elements of this across all social networks, but Pinterest has really distilled it down to the lowest common denominator point and click.
More of an indictment of society than of Pinterest itself I suppose. Pinterest or something like it was bound to show up sooner or later.
Will Sasso alone has over 250k followers and the app has been live for like, a little over two months now? I'd say it's growing pretty rapidly.
* I hope that doesn't come off as too condescending to HS students, I certainly don't mean it to be!
I think that it's exactly the right kind of condescending to high school students. An environment where something like Vine can significantly effect your popularity is probably so toxic that only scum can breathe in it.
At the time, they were in the depths of their existential struggle. The "party" consisted of a few guys, a couple of liters of soda, and a few half-empty bottles of booze.
I remember talking to Joe and Brian, and hearing their pitch, and thinking: "oh, so it's like couchsurfing, but for pay....good luck with that, guys".
Lookup my previous posts I rant enough about AirBnB owners and their criminal past.
They explain on their website: "Our reasons for passing on these investments varied. In some cases, we were making a conscious act of generosity to another, younger venture firm, down on their luck, who we felt could really use a billion dollars in gains. In other cases, our partners had already run out of spaces on the year's Schedule D and feared that another entry would require them to attach a separate sheet."
The whole web page is filled with similar, painfully funny explanations: http://www.bvp.com/portfolio/antiportfolio
It's 2005 (hardly the distant technological past), and someone gets the idea for a site where you can store and watch videos. This is not some kind of radical technological innovation. This is not something beyond the ambit of current capabilities. This is not some brazen insight into the future. This is a site. Where you store videos. And watch them.
This, of course, is YouTube -- a site that was eventually sold to Google for $1.6 billion dollars.
But they also had excellent design sense. YouTube made uploading, viewing, and sharing content very, very easy. I did some consulting for a semi-competitor, so I paid a lot of attention to the market then. YouTube did a great job, which helped them get users, which surely didn't hurt with VCs.
Also, Crunchbase says they took $3.5m from Sequoia to start, and then $8m a few months later, and my recollection was that later tranche was really just to spend on bandwidth and servers. Google bought them a few months later. So they didn't lose what I'd call ungodly amounts of VC money; that's less than 1% of what Facebook received before IPOing.
Youtube was acquired very quickly (within a year of public launch), so total losses were of course much lower than Facebook. But due to the bandwidth costs, YouTube had to burn a half-million+ a month very quickly after launch. Not many entrepreneurs are connected enough to get that kind of cash so quickly. Facebook could grow the site while spending only in the low five digits, without needing to quickly raise a large venture round.
YouTube wasn't alone. They just won the lottery and nobody remembers all the others who disappeared.
I'm being facetious of course, but the best deals are often the ones you don't make. The real question is how much of an impact an anomalous success story should have on the way you evaluate business opportunities.
Ideas I'd consider not stupid include self-driving cars, Google Glass, and Bitcoin. Whether or not those are good ideas is yet another discussion…
I am often reminded of the 2001 me. When I was new developer building java web applications and full of vigor with no real responsibilities or expenses.
I was dead set on this idea to build a site where people could post links, pictures, text or whatever and it would be voted and categorically managed by the user community.
I shopped the idea and prototype around to people in my limited network and it was unanimous that no one would ever want to invest time into this concept. Discouraged, I scrapped the idea and accepted a position as the first non-partner employee at a consulting start-up that quickly imploded.
Years later reddit moves to the forefront of the internet with striking resemblance to my original plan.
My fault because I did not stick to my guns. The idea that my application could have been half as popular as reddit is unlikely but it taught me a lesson, sometimes you've got to trust your gut, even if the people you trust cannot see your vision.
I always picture myself in the following situation: A guy comes into my office in 2005, and says: "Uhm, excuse me, we're looking for investors in our new great product. It's for sending messages!" - "You mean, like email?" - "Yes. Except, you only have 140 characters." - "Err?" - "Oh, and you can't determine who will receive the message." - "Excuse me?" - "Yes, that's right. Would you like to invest?"
I would have laughed that guy out of my office back then...
...and now he'd be laughing at me.
Thus I'm very glad, no-one ever comes to my office in real life.
Stupid is popular, though. You don't need to build more than the most mundane of the things to have a popular product.
I was really expecting some kind of goal that he'd set for himself or way to improve his pessimistic attitude. Oh well.
Turns out one of them succeeded in a sense.
I thought Twitter was a solution looking for a problem too. Interestingly, Twitter's usefulness (at least for me) stems from it's popularity rather than its content. Pretty much everyone I care about listening to is there, but most of the tweets that I'm interested in link me to some place that isn't Twitter.
Maybe 1 in 100 that have a solid idea and strong execution are going to achieve the critical mass they need for success. It really just comes down to achieving trendiness, which though it can be engineered to some extent and depends to some extent on quality and uniqueness, is still fraught with chance and ultimately depends whether a product happens to appeal to the particular whims of enough people with above average influence simultaneously enough to create momentum and buzz. A few missing links in that chain can sink the ship, while catching the right eye in the right way can ensure global adoption.
So having a negative attitude toward them all is safe in the sense that you'll almost always be right, and you'll be constantly reinforced in your beliefs. But since startup investment is a game of long shots, like most +EV gambling games, an investor shouldn't be focused on the absolute probability of success but on the chance of success * the potential value.
Nothing is better than irc, usenet, MUDs, and email/lists, with the exception of making things mobile, detachable/multi device, more secure, and I guess supporting non Latin alphabets. There are still a few products missing from the perfect Internet (a great usenet/forum replacement, a way to run individual agents in the background, a way to great all communications as filter ably as email, and a great payment system), but I'm fine without another catalog sharing site, etc.
I accept that consumer services could become popular, but I have no way to predict it, and once they have traction, they are expensive investments. I am kind of at a loss as to how one could be a high value add investor in the seed consumer space without just focusing on founders nearly exclusively.
I was really into discovering new web sites at the time and had not heard of this company. I looked at the guy's site to see what it was about. I remember thinking it was ugly design and a stupid idea. Not much longer after that, the company began to take off. The guy that had e-mailed me was Pierre Omidyar and the site was EBay. I've tried to look at new businesses with an open mind since then.
EDIT: someone just emailed me and said this was stupid. LOL
The idea that people were going to push around 500k images (Flickr) or even more insane, videos was crazy when it first started happening. Remember how long it took to download QuickTime or RealPlayer videos, and how bad the quality was? Now people are streaming HD music videos on our PHONES just to listen to it while they drive to work. They don't even watch the video.
1) eBay - people are going to buy from random people they don't know? and bid against other people they don't know? Auctions will be rigged and I won't get my stuff. Stupid.
2) Netflix - they are going to send DVD's in the mail and I am going to mail them back? And then I have to wait for it to get to me? Aren't people going to steal the DVD's and damage them? Won't it cost too much for them to make a profit? Why don't I just go to Blockbuster? Stupid.
To Ben and Dom's credit, I have a feeling both saw Dustin's apathy, read it correctly as apathy, and used that to either strengthen their products, or their story, or both.
Wouldn't it be awesome if there was a service that let you...
- easily bookmark content from the web onto your personal "mood board",
probably using a booklet.
- organize that content into collections
- share it with a social network built around the original idea.
I've had multiple experiences since where I thought of something and then something similar either already exists or it shows up soon after. The Pinterest example was the most extreme though, because I really had a copy of Pinterest (minus the identity ofc) in my mind and on paper. What this taught me is that I have a brain that is capable of thinking up stuff that is apparently wanted  and as such it has boosted my confidence. At the end of the day, the person who wins is the person who executes. Execution is key.
 Allow me to be very careful here. I may suffer from cognitive bias causing me to discount the amount of ideas that I've had that are probably absolutely shit, but in my own defence I'm the first person to shoot down my ideas. Also, knowing what the market wants requires you to test your assumptions. I'm well aware of this.
Don't confuse the dancer with the dance.
Is this really a fair description of Pinterest today though? Maybe as originally described it is a dumb idea.
Vine, on the other hand, is really awesome and Curtis saw it right then, but was more worried about how it would find popularity rather than whether it was a "good" idea.
Of course there is. You mentioned it yourself!:
"The future is extremely hard to see through the lens of the present, and it's very easy to unconsciously dismiss the first versions of it as frivolous or useless. Or as stupid ideas."
And of course, I find that terribly wrong. The author did not hint that at all (which I appreciate), however, but I still believe many will think this.
The point is that you must carefully examine each idea before jumping to a judgement. Do not dismiss the bad points. Just think it through.
It wont work every time, because you're not perfect, and because you don't have all elements/cards in your hands (unless you can see the future and read people's mind, of course).
All you can do is a best guess. Obviously, the author is either very unlucky, either bad at doing the best possible guess.
There are probably some others, but I love stupid ideas, they make things interesting.
I still don't know why Instagram is a thing.
I can see how it's popular. I just don't see why it's as popular as it seems to be.
And obviously i'm not arguing the problem is Instagram, since this is a thread about not being able to see why ideas take off. Clearly I just don't get it.
Is it the case that these people articulated the best case for their products and businesses when Dustin saw introduced to these projects in their infancy?
Developing a product, and the right pitch is an evolutionary process, and it may just very well be the case that Dustin encountered them too early.
He may very well be at fault for thinking these ideas were stupid at the time, but then again he might very well not be.
Being introduced to a work in progress is always a negotiation. Asking the right questions is part of it, and on the flip side, having an interlocutor who has some sense of how to answer your questions.
Also, some ideas are just stupid.
And the past is hard to see without the lens of hindsight warping things. A decision might look silly in the face of information from the future, but that doesn't mean it was the wrong decision at the time. It wasn't. You made the rational play and you happened to lose. Your information was just incomplete. And unlike the founders who ended up winning, you had no incentive to assume the gaps would be filled in with magic traction and a bag of money.
I'm still working on this, but I've seen that if you put aside your preconceptions and try to understand the product that is being showed to you, using it, asking a lot of questions and really giving yourself some time for big picture conversation, you are able to tell them apart.
Can we get an iPad or web app with an easier way to explore and stumble through "magazine articles" without knowing who or what we are looking for?
I mean, I could take thousands of pictures and automate the process of applying photoshop filters and uploading them as they arrive - and I bet most of you could do it too, perhaps in some even cooler way. That'd be just black magic for most people.
I think the root of it, for me at least, is just a bit of envy staring down at me from my shelf of half-completed and less interesting ideas.
Wifi was becoming common when I entered college. Around that time, laptops were underpowered, especially compared to desktops.
I thought wifi was a fad. After all, you generally had to plug your laptop in after 2 hours. What was the big deal about a cable for network too?
What we do in the present can affect the future but we can not predict what will actually happen. There's too much
The point of this entry is really: as an entrepreneur, push forward independent of what people who are not you target customer say/think.
Except the really stupid ones, of course.
this is why signaling is so important.