Suddenly the VC/entrepreneur meme for Q1-2011 is “The Quora for X.” Here are two examples from the past few days:
- Google Ventures Leads $600K Investment In LawPivot, A Quora For Startup Legal Advice
- Hipster Is Quora Plus Location – Or Q&A For Where You Are
Lest you think this is a TechCrunch phenomenon, I’ve received a half dozen emails in the last week pitching companies as “Quora for X” or some derivative of this (often “The Quora for X”). Of course, Joshua Schachter very cleverly suggested last night via Twitter that we create the “Quora for XXX“. Given the presence of PornoTube and YouPorn in our universe, I expect some clever porn purveyor will quickly figure this one out.
This meme goes around regularly. Here are a few built off of success cases (which bodes well for Quora if you view meme development as a leading indicator of success. “The Youtube for X”, “The Facebook for X”, “The MySpace for X” (oops), “The Google for X”, “The Twitter for X”, “The LinkedIn for X”, “The Groupon for X”, “The FourSquare for X”, and “The Zynga for X.”
You’ll probably infer that “X” in each case is a specific (often tightly defined) vertical market. Each of the companies listed above are arguably several of the very few companies that have actually established enough critical mass of users to declare themselves a true platform. The “X’s” presume that specialization in a vertical market will result in unique functionality that the general platform can’t create.
Ironically, this thought process runs directly counter to another massively overused entrepreneurial meme – “I’m creating a platform for X.” Think about it for a sec – are you creating a derivative of a platform that is vertically focused or is the vertically focused derivative of a platform that you are creating going to also be a platform?
Now, step back and think about how many huge companies have been created using “The BigSuccessfulStartupNowPlatform for X” approach? While modest companies emerge out of this (and there’s nothing wrong with that), there aren’t very many really significant companies that emerge. The platforms – if they are real platforms – usually either extend into the vertical segments nicely or quickly acquire “The BSSNP for X”.
As an investor, I’m not really interested in any of the verticals that are derivatives of platforms. Other than a few specific cases, where we actually believe a platform company can be created, we stay away from vertical markets. And often, the driver of the decision is the entrepreneur and his obsession with and experience in the particular vertical market in question.
I expect that we’ll see many “Quora’s for X” get created and talked about in the next quarter. If I was an investor in Quora, I’d be encouraging the team to be focused on expanding quickly into every vertical that appears which seems like it would be easy given their existing infrastructure. And if I was an entrepreneur, I’d already be looking past “The Quora for X” meme for what’s going to be next.
Remember rock / paper / scissors? It’s a beautiful kids game that unlike tic-tac-toe regularly results in a winner. Paper always beats rock. Rock always beats scissors. Scissors always beats paper. But what happens when you only have two – say “software” and “network”.
Whenever I’m at a Silicon Flatirons event, I always get into an argument with someone from the telecom world about “what the Internet is.” Most of the time I try to listen patiently for about 30 seconds as the telecom person explains to me how without them there would be no Internet and the applications that exist are merely “traffic” on “their network.” They then try to tell me crazy things like “no one will ever need more than 100 Mbps” and say snarky things like “who knows, maybe Google will spend more on their 1 Gbps buildout then they did on the 700 MHz spectrum.” I try to remind them that when I was 13 someone told me “you’ll never need more than 48k of RAM” and then again when I was 18 someone told me “you’ll never need a hard drive bigger than 10MB".” Oh, the things people say in the throws of competitive pressure. Innovation? Who needs innovation. Let’s take a big helping of regulation instead.
As someone who has been involved in creating software in one form or another for the past 25 years, I know I’m biased. I happily live in my little parallel software universe, generate huge amounts of data that travels over these complex networks, and pay a lot of money each month for the privilege. If you add up all of my bills – Comcast in multiple houses, a Qwest T1 to my house just outside of Boulder (since Comcast doesn’t get there), a Verizon MiFi, AT&T for my iPhone, Tmobile for Amy’s Dash, Verizon for a Droid we don’t use, lots of connectivity to my office, and probably some other stuff I don’t even know about, it’s a big number. Oh, and that doesn’t even count all the connectively that the companies I invest in use. You’d think – for all this – the network would be the driver of my behavior.
But notice the different providers above. Comcast. Verizon, AT&T, and Tmobile. I know my friends at Sprint must feel left out – I’ll have to figure how to get something on the Now Network. Oh yeah, I’ve got DirectTV in one location (the one with the T1) because of – er – no Comcast to my house. These companies are all household names for me because they spend ridiculous amounts of money on advertising – not because I love them. Do you love any of them?
I had an interesting experience in New Orleans over the weekend. After a day, I turned to Amy and said “have you noticed that almost everyone is walking around with an iPhone?” I was amazed by the incredible the penetration of the iPhone. I followed this up with “I wonder what they are all doing since I can’t get a signal on this thing worth a shit.” Then, during the marathon on Sunday, I noticed that the vast majority of runners who had a device had one of three devices: (1) A Garmin GPS watch, (2) an iPhone, or (3) an iPod. That was it. Every now and then someone had a different phone. But the number of runners with iPhone’s was remarkable.
I can assure you there weren’t using the phone for the network. It’s pretty funny to watch someone at mile 15 of a marathon on the phone saying “Hello – can you hear me? Damnit – fucking AT&T.” Yes – I heard that once. During mile 15.
I predict all those iPhones were out there because of the software, not the network.
On the eve of the passing of the massive “economic stimulus package” (I was really hoping it was going to be more than 1 trillion so Dr. Evil could start saying “1 trillion dollars”) we are hearing “broadband broadband broadband.”
I’m going to be spending the day tomorrow at the Silicon Flatirons Conference titled The Digital Broadband Migration: Imagining the Internet’s Future and I’m speaking at 9:45 on the panel titled Overview Panel: The Internet’s Challenge to Policymakers. It’s clear that I’ve been set up as my co-panelists are:
- Kathryn C. Brown, SVP of Policy, Verizon, Former Chief of Staff FCC
- Kathleen O’Brien Ham, Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs, T-Mobile
- Dale Hatfield, Adjunct Professor, University of Colorado, Former Chief Engineer Federal Communications Commission
- William Kovacic, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission
- Bryan Tramont, Silicon Flatirons Senior Adjunct Fellow, University of Colorado, Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
I guess I’m the dude that gets to say “telcos – please get out of the way.” Coincidentally, as I was catching up on my email this morning, I ran into a note from Bob Frankston (of Visicalc fame) pointing in response to this conference pointing me to his post titled The Broadband Internet? It’s a brilliant post that is right on the money. The punch line:
“Today people know that they want more “Internet” so they ask for more of the same by saying “broadband”. Our future lies in universal connectivity and simplicity. We can do better than living in the past glory of telecommunication.”
I really hope “Broadband” and “Internet” don’t get conflated. Our friendly neighborhood policy makers need to make sure they know the difference.