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July 07, 2007

It's a Marketing Problem

This past Sunday I went to Mind Camp 4.0 at the Tukwila Community Center, and I had an absolute blast at it.  The day was set-up as an open conference, where people post what they would like to teach others and each individual chooses what they would like to listen to for each one-hour segment.  There were some really great discussions there.  Some of the ones I went to involved where can you take web 2.0 next, what you need to take into account when starting a company, advertising rates for websites, and education in the State of Washington. 

At the event, there was no loss of good ideas.  One of the cool one's that I saw was NoonHat, where you post the place you're at and the radius within which you would like to catch lunch.  The site then pairs you with others that want to catch lunch in the same vicinity and time.  Another was Uncluttr, which makes finding books on Amazon a lot more intuitive and simple.  If you want inspiration for some new ideas, something like Mind Camp is a great event to attend.  I think the discussions helped to spark about a dozen ideas in my head during the 12 hours I was there.

The one thing I saw missing from a lot of the discussions was the business side.  It's great to have cool little technologies and demo them for others, but it's another discussion to find ways to make money off of them, and sadly a lot of the ideas didn't have a concrete monetization model.  Another area was business risk, which is something that came up in talking about where to take web 2.0 next.  With ~90% of the people being more tech-oriented, ways to lower business risk that have been used in other areas of the economy weren't brought up until I started to chime in.  Then how do you gain your users?  Working off your initial network will only take you so far, so quickly.  To gain a large user base quickly, you'll need to find other ways to market it to increase user adoption and understand what type of scaling problem you have with respect to your users. 

Without a strong business model, most of these cool ideas will flounder or allow their creators to make a few dollars a month off of Google Adwords, and they won't become widely adopted.  The plummeting costs to develop web applications has thrown out the technical problem when developing 98% of web applications, a site like Farecast being in the 2%.  It's easy to copy and paste someone else's code or make a social networking site with one new "killer" feature.  Even when the technical problem is eclipsed for those 2%, what you're left with is a marketing problem, and solving that problem requires a different mind set than developing the cool feature did.


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