Focus of Startups

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

David Weingberger discusses Meet-up new charge to use plan and wonders about free competition. David, and those commenting on the posting, offer alternatives to Meetup. I am not so concerned with Meetup charging money as I am the changes that have come to Meetup in the past year, some have been very good.

I have been watching trends in the last year or two that bring a needed tool to market. It catches on and one of two things happen most often 1) they do not innovate and listen to their user base and improve on their great start, or 2) they start including other components and start looking like a social network or something not quite related to their initial goal. The exceptions to these are those that go under quickly or those that do it well get bought for their great special tool. There are many that fall into category one that flourish and stagnate and there are many valid reasons for this, change in life for the developers (married, baby, death, new job, etc.) or loss of interest. The second category seems to be the influence of money and advisors, or some odd force unknown to me.

Companies that fall into category one still have a chance. They are thin and can innovate if they focus. Look at what did in a couple weeks after John Udell made some insightful comments. This is what many of us users of the site had wished for. Hopefully Upcoming will continue with the progress, but it is sticking to what it has done well, build a site around events that keeps the calendar open and easy to get a subscription to the event. Upcoming has always had a great interface that was easy to figure out and was fun to explore.

Meetup seems to have fallen in to the second category. It has been a solid site and resource, but it kept adding user features for finding people and communicating with people. Nice, but there was a lot of effort there rather than improving the ability to organize a meeting and get it off the ground. The meeting focus came back (nearly everybody I knew had the same complaint, they could not change the date or place for the event) and the site started to work much better for many. The social networking components are nice, but to have sacrificed their core interests, getting people to meet face-to-face and helping the meeting come off. Now Meetup will, inevitably loose some of its audience, but how much will be left? Had Meetup focussed on building tools for the meeting organizers they would already have something special. If the meetings don't happen they loose the flocks that come to check in on their meetings, I watched local groups wither because of Meetup's lack of focus. I am really not trying to blame anybody, just making observations.

What is the point? Focus on what you are doing that is different. Listen to your core constituency that makes your site worth going to. Make your offerings open so that the person using the service feels like they have control of their information (they should have control of that information as they are trusting the site owner's with it and trust can wither quickly). Make it easy to for the people to not only manage what information they give you, but allow them to consume this information in the manner they wish (Upcoming allowing me to subscribe to my own events I am following is a great step and that is the focus interaction should take -- the person chooses how they best want to consume the information). Focus on simplicity (of interface, of interaction, of purpose). Provide an element of play in your offering as life does not have to be boring (not too cute as cute ages fast).