So, what will it take to succeed?
If it’s not money or brilliant programming (see below) what will characterize the success of tomorrow’s Net?
1. Relentless execution. This is far and away the winner. Persistence and focus and consistency. We saw how this worked for Amazon and we saw how getting distracted hurt AOL and others. It’s far more important today, because markets at rest tend to stay at rest. Changing the market is hard.
2. Resistance to compromise. Because you can do so much, so fast using tools, and because it’s easy for non-experts to chime in, the temptation is to go for the middle, to compromise, to be all things. It’s the Purple Cow thing again…
3. What you don’t do. This is a little bit like #2. Go take a look at an Amazon page. Now you can do a web search, search inside the book, order it new, order it used, on and on and on. The temptation is to do everything you can do (it might work for Amazon, but it’s not going to work for you!) The very best new Net companies understand in their heart and soul what they WON’T do.
4. Desire to be three steps ahead. One step is easy. One step isn’t enough. If you’re only one step ahead, you’ll get creamed before you launch. Two steps is tempting. Two steps means that everyone understands what you’re up to when you pitch them. Two steps means that you can get funded in no time. Two steps is a problem. It’s a problem because the smart guys are three steps ahead. They’re the groundbreakers and the pathfinders. They’re the ones inventing the next generation. It’s harder to sell, harder to build and harder to get your mother-in-law to understand, but that’s what’s worth building.
5. Doing something worth doing. Hey, nobody is going to switch to your service because you worked hard on it. Being a little better is worthless.
6. Connecting people to people. Over and over again, that’s what lasts online. Folks thought it was about technology and it’s not.
7. Monetizing from the first moment. Google without Adwords is worthless. So Adwords are built in to the experience. Not, "hey, we have to do this because otherwise we’ll go out of business" but "this actually makes the service better." Given how cheap most online services are to build and run, you can’t charge money if the only reason you’re charging is to make a profit. Charging adds friction and selectivity. If those two elements are a drag on your service, you will fail. Hotmail’s founders missed this point. Banner ads made hotmail worse, not better, and because they didn’t build useful ads into the service from the start, they never could.
8. Not depending on a big, hairy partner. Sure it would be great if you could be on Yahoo’s home page every day, or built into blogger or featured on Fox every night. But it would be great if you won the lottery, too. That’s a wish, not a plan.
9. Ignoring the pundits. Including me. If I’m so smart, why don’t I go build your business?
10. Keeping promises. Even though the Net is here and it’s real, that doesn’t mean that the laws of business have been suspended forever. And those two words capture the best of what we’ve learned for four hundred years. Do what you say you’re going to do and the rest is a lot easier.