Skip to main content

You're Not So Special. Are you?

In 1997 I started shopping ChiliSoft's idea of ASP anywhere. Dave had developed SlipScript at PSU, and joined us in December 1996.

Microsoft's ASP was uncannily similar--and later than--SlipScript, but the opportunity was clear: you could build VBScript/Javascript server applications on any server with SlipScript if Dave made a few modifications.

But selling against an existing market is hard.

It was a nascent market; Netscape had its very unreliable LiveWire, but Microsoft came out with ASP in Fall of 96, and there were others like NetDynamics, Allaire, etc that were all evolving toward different ends of the market. And we were just three guys with no money (aside from the credit card).

So how were we different? What was the special sauce? Why did we think we could beat Microsoft? Or Netscape? Or any of the server software vendors competing for the same space?

Ultimately I was able to convince enough people that this was the game changer. At the time, there were relatively few Java and C++ developers, which were viewed as high-skilled programmers.

But there were an estimated 5 million Visual Basic developers, none of whom could develop for UNIX, Linux, or variations, and most corporations were running some OS other than NT for their web apps.

So we made it about access to available developers. Sure, you could build a Java server application--if you had Java developers. This was well before there was so much offshoring and hiring of foreign developers (there was some but not at today's scale, which has both helped and hurt the US market).

That selling point landed us Morgan Stanley, a major partnership with IBM, and countless accounts. We made VB developers relevant to Sun, Netscape, HP, IBM, etc. That was the promise, anyway, and we largely delivered.

I'm talking with several local startups about joining them in some capacity. I love coaching, but I'm wired to lead, so I'm talking to VCs and startups around the MidAtlantic area, but there's no place like home.

As I research each of them, I find existing competitors. No, they're not the same. No, they aren't quite as slick, or have the same approach, etc.

But they have customers, mindshare, case studies, infrastructure, etc. And websites. Investors looking into you will find them, and they'll start to think the opportunity isn't so clear, or wide open, or easy, or obvious.

You have to figure out what your key differentiators are. Why would I invest in when there's Expedia and Really--will people rent out a room in their homes to me for a night? That's nuts. Imagine what I could do. Or they could do.

But it works, and they raised a ton of money for it. They were able to show why they were great: they enable people to monetize their excess capacity of their house or apartment. Or boat.

So why are you different? What makes you so special?

I have a tough time with this myself. This is the kind of conversation where self-doubt creeps in, because frankly it's really, really hard to nail it.

But you can do it :)


Popular posts from this blog

Where Innovation Happens

As I get closer to a go/no-go decision on a project, I've been thinking about the difference about my vision for the project and the supportive innovations to enable the core innovations The vision combines (in unequal parts) product, core innovation as I imagine it, the application of that core innovation, design, marketing,  developer ecosystem, and business development. The core innovation enables everything else, but it's the application of the innovation that makes it meaningful, useful, and in this case, fun. This week we're testing initial approaches to the implementation for our specific application, and that's where we'll develop the enabling innovations, which is basically where the rubber meets the road. The difference is that the enabling innovation happens at the source of real problems only encountered in the making of something, and in a project like this just getting the essence of it right isn't enough; it also has to be safe, the compone

Beta Signup

I've been working for quite a while on a new search concept, though the further in I get, the closer the rest of the world gets to what we're doing. So today I'm inviting you to sign up for the rather modest beta, which will be ready soon if we can nail down a few difficult  details. Jawaya is a way of navigating the web and getting better results. And that's as much as I can say right now, because we're not a funded startup, and things are moving really fast in this space--it's going to be very competitive. I predict there will be about 10 funded startups in the next 6 months doing something similar. One of them will be mine, and we aim to make it the best. We're raising a round of capital to fund the team, and are shooting for early sustainability. This is my fifth company; my fourth in the tech space, and my third software company. I think it will be the biggest and can possibly have a positive impact on the world by reducing the amount of time it takes

The Real Jobs Problem

It's the economy, stupid.  Well, yes, it always has been, if you're in the distortion field of politics.  But whose economy? The pundits, the White House, the Republican candidates all miss the mark. They keep talking about debt, taxes, and monetary policy. None of those things tell the real story behind today's economy.  The Old Economy Keynes was right--in the old economy. Economy gets weak, pump some money into the economy through public works projects, which  1) puts people to work, which  2) boosts the economy and  3) generates new tax revenue, while  4) leaving us with another generation of reliable infrastructure to support  5) more growth (for growth's sake, which is another post).  The Beach Ball Imagine a beach ball, partially deflated to represent a recession. Got it? Now imagine the govt pumping that beach ball back up through sensible public investment (which we haven't seen for decades). The New Economy Same beach ball, same pum