Many great products are very underpowered to start. Laptops were much weaker than desktops when they were first made, but the gap shrunk considerably over the years and the benefit of portability made it worth the slower speed and functionality for many consumers. Wikipedia wasn’t nearly as useful when it first launched, but got more useful every day as people added and edited articles until it turned into a resource that millions of users trust as much as a ‘professional’ encyclopedia. If the functionality and method of attacking a problem is valid, then it doesn’t matter if the product is weak when it first launches. Some of the most powerful products are those that constantly get stronger the more people use them or the more data they collect.
Don’t assume that because a product is weak or inaccurate today that it is a bad product or the wrong way to solve a problem. If google only crawled and indexed 1000 websites, it would be a weak and inaccurate search engine, but the more sites it crawls and indexes, the more powerful it is. Obviously it is a valid method of solving the problem of web search seeing as how it has been the dominant market leader for several years now. Early adopters differ from mass consumers in that they see the value of a product before it is fully baked or before it reaches its full potential. Early adopters look at the solution and project it to the future to see if what is a weak and inaccurate offering today could be a powerful solution once it gains traction and data. If a product doesn’t properly solve a problem, or solves a problem that isn’t really a pain point for anybody, then it won’t usually gain many early adopters.
Some products or services do gain a lot of early adopters because they are a novelty or capture the tech world’s attention, but if those don’t move beyond novelty to solving a real problem felt by many, then they won’t cross into the mainstream and will die off eventually. When deciding to fund a startup, VCs must determine if a company’s solution is truly solving a problem that a large market feels or if it’s a novelty or edge case. When determining if a product has the potential to be a runaway success, then look to see if it grows stronger the more people use it or the more data it can collect.
If you look at some of the largest players today, they all have that in common: they are more powerful the larger they grow and/or the more data they collect. Google as it crawls more websites, Facebook and Twitter as they gain more users, Wikipedia as more articles are added and edited daily and iPhone OS as more apps are deployed by developers. It becomes very difficult to displace these companies since they only gain momentum as they grow, making it harder to compete with them every day. If you can solve a problem in such a way, then don’t worry if it’s inaccurate or weak at launch; if it solves a large enough problem in the right way, then focus on growing the product to get the avalanche rolling.
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