An Open Letter from Symbaloo’s CEO, Klaas Lameijer
With Symbaloo we have nothing to hide. We want to be open, as is our product. With that, I wanted to share my view on the current state of personal resource management (formerly known as start pages), a view that I call the ‘Twisted Long Tail.” Personal bookmarking is the single most underestimated high volume revenue-generating market on the Internet. Why? Because bookmarking is not “in fashion,” even though it is a highly valued way to save your resources.
Fashion Forward Start-Up Culture
The strive for “fashion” amongst start-ups is a twisted tale indeed. The fashionable start-ups are the ones who aim to be ‘Next Big Thing,’ and are influenced by their early adopters, the 1%. They are focused on niche new developments that will appeal to the smallest part of the market while forgetting about the rest of the market, the 99%. This worked for the Facebook’s, Pinterest’s, and Instagram’s or if you enjoy playing the lotto but what about the thousands of other start-ups that don’t make the cut. For most, failure is inevitable because they get lost in their niche and implement changes just for sake of making changes never taking into account the long-term vision for their product. If you want to build a company with long-term sustainability you are better off focusing on a larger target market, like what I call the “two-finger generation,” aka baby boomers, many of which may have never learned to type with more than two fingers. At Symbaloo, we try to do something that makes their lives better and easier and that has become our recipe for success.
The Start-Up ‘In Crowd’ aka Shiny Ball Syndrome
Tech companies develop for the techy early adopters, the 1%. This small market is not a loyal one, as soon as there is something new and shiny they will move on. They trade being the long-time user of said company to be awarded the title of early adopter for the new shiny company. We don’t work on making Symbaloo better for the savviest 1% of our users. We focus on the 99% that are still having difficulties in using the product to it’s full potential. We believe clear tutorials and optimizing usability are just as important as new features.
Stop Chasing Your Own Tail
To survive in this environment you have to stop chasing your own tail. Don’t do something because your competitor is offering it. Darwinism still holds true in that you must adapt and reinvent yourself to survive. There are four lessons we, at Symbaloo, have learned and that we believe contribute to our continued growth year after year.
1. You Have to Feed Yourself
You need to find a model. The whole belief that you can get by without a model like Twitter is a myth. The truth: you can finance yourself until you develop a model but in this current VC state you better have a model before you go back asking for more money. Symbaloo has a very common business model. We have an affiliate model, which basically means we make money when users click a tile and then purchase something. This is the way we can keep Symbaloo free for users and with minimal advertising with low overhead. Never trust a cloud company that is not able to make money to pay the electricity bill!
2. You Have to Find a Target Market
At Symbaloo we found ours rather organically. A student posted this video of her 7th grade science project with our tool. We then polled our users only to find out that a large portion were involved in the education sector in one-way or another. Hence, SymbalooEDU was born and we are on our way to becoming one of the leading education resource management tools. We did this by listening to the needs of teachers, schools and districts.
3. You Need to Improve
Let me make this clear, you need to have a plan for improving your product. It is ok and recommended to listen to the needs and wants of your community but ultimately those needs and wants should line-up with your long-term goals. Additionally you must be able to decipher between what is a need and what is a want. That is what separates you from the thousands of other dying start-ups.
At Symbaloo we decipher between ‘must haves/needs’ and ‘nice to haves/wants’ and implement a certain percentage of each in our roadmap. With that we always cross reference the roadmap with our longer-term goal of being the best resource management tool by making tile navigation increasingly smarter, more social and easily accessible through things like touch and voice. Remember not to develop for the 1% of the savvy users that have wants, listen to the 99% that have needs!
4. You Need to Stay Focused and Committed to that Focus
Just as shiny ball syndrome can distract your users it can also distract your team. You will be tempted to stray off course and many opportunities may present themselves, you have to learn to say no to most and decipher which opportunities to move on. It is important to focus and follow through with your plan, give it a chance to develop and show results so that you can analyze the data and determine the next steps. There is not a day that passes that we don’t dream of how well we could do in the health or travel sector but first we have to prove we can be great in the education sector. iGoogle and Delicious are a perfect example of how a product can fail because their management gave up too soon by getting distracted with shiny new products. But that is ok for us because then we become the best iGoogle alternative.
Lastly, temporary downfalls will happen, they always happen but staying focused and following through is key. Our numbers drastically drop off during summer months and the first time we saw this we didn’t know that it would be a pattern or how we could explain this to share holders. Now we have learned that it is just part of our cycle and we have made adjustments. Always break through any resistance to get to your goal.
Remember This: Focusing on niche markets can put your company in real danger of getting twisted up in the long tail!