What Really Matters to a Startup?

At Mobile 2.0 a lot of folks asked me why I hadn’t posted anything about the major shifts in the mobile landscape that have happened over the last few weeks. The big news items being Google buying Motorola, Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple, and HP deciding to call it quits with webOS. It’s not cause I don’t have opinions about where those changes might be taking the industry. But for the most part I don’t think those major shifts are the kinds of discussions that really impact startups.

Sure, there was plenty of talk about the big issues at the conference. But if I look back at the conversations I had with other startup folks the topics were way more practical. The questions are always the same, tectonic shifts or not: “How do we get more users?”, “Is there a better way to make more money off what we’re doing?”, “Who would make a good partner for what we’re doing?” And in most cases those big shifts in the industry don’t impact how you answer those questions. Frequently folks talk about how startups can be more nimble than larger organizations, and this is one of the places where we should best be able to take advantage of it.

Lets take the Google/Motorola deal as an example to work from. Lots of folks are speculating that with Google now potentially directly competing with hardware manufacturers that we’re going to start to see more non-Android handsets coming to market. For the sake of conversation assume that to be true. As a startup company when should I care about that shift? I would say you should start caring about it at the point where this “third platform” gets to a large enough deployment it’s worth developing for. I’m sure someone out there would debate that. But I’m fairly definite right now is not the time for your average 5 to 10 person startup to try to get ahead of a trend.

It does make sense for large companies to care about these things. If instead of a 5 person startup you had a staff of a few hundred Android developers and a product pipeline that was 12 months long you had to care about, then it does have a strategic impact on how you should do your planning. And if that was the case you would have to figure out a strategy that covered the likely outcomes of allowing Microsoft/Nokia to get back into the game, someone snapping up webOS and making a real run out of it, Amazon pulling a Google on Android and using their technology without using their platform, or just driving interest back into iOS when devs get tired of porting.

As a startup you don’t have to go chasing shadows though. Because you can shift your strategy much faster, you can wait until you know you’re not walking into a minefield before picking a direction. That’s where I see the real value in how nimble a startup can be, and where most of my discussions tend to concentrate. Not in gambling on trends and trying to jump ahead of them, but in being able to wait till a direction is clear and then executing quickly to take advantage of it. That’s just good startuping.

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One Response to What Really Matters to a Startup?

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