I’ve talked to a lot of Web 2.0 companies in the past month, some big and some small. A few themes have developed in how to make a successful Web 2.0 company – here’s a few ideas.
1. Build a real team. There are so many Web 2.0 companies that are either run in a virtual environment or with just a few people in a basement somewhere. It’s not a good strategy because any ideas that could germinate with a larger team – and I mean about 5-8 people or so — will be stagnated with just one or two employees. If you can’t afford a real team that includes a developers and designers, folks in marketing and accounting, and a sales agent or two, you might just have an idea, not a company. It reminds me of my experience this week with a rental car company staffed by just a couple of people. (Yes, I was trying to save a buck.) One of the employees was out sick, so that left one person to transport people to and from the airport, do the paperwork, and deal with frustrations. In the same way, one person can write a blog, but it takes a company to make a real Web 2.0 product that actually does something.
2. Don’t let the team get too big at first. Digg has stayed a small, tightly run company for some time — even though they could probably be a lot bigger. Microsoft, when they create a new Web site product like PhotoSynth, will limit the team size to about five people, even though they could obviously make the teams a lot bigger. There’s something about the small team approach to creating a Web 2.0 product. It reminds me of the example in the book Tipping Point where Malcom Gladwell covers the company Gore-Tex and explains how they keep departments small and break them up when they get too big. Same goes for Web 2.0 — big teams don’t work.
3. Stay together in the same room. I heard about the “newsroom” approach at Text 100 (a PR agency) where everyone is working, talking, and sharing information together in an open room. I think it hearkens back to our classroom experience where we all first learned to collaborate, and forces people to be contributors and not stay isolated. It’s also easier to stay on mission when everyone around you is on the same mission. Whether it is right or wrong for all companies, it seems to be the model that works for Web 2.0.
4. Get your message out to the blogs. This one is more controversial — I just had a meeting where someone said the best way to get attention is by building a great product. Maybe. When GM or Microsoft build a great product, people notice. With so much competition in Web 2.0, and so many options around for doing our work online, making something great is more like a root assumption than a good marketing plan. If a site like TechCrunch or Mashable hears about your site and finds it compelling, you can attract a massive audience. I get inundated now with requests to cover new Web 2.0 companies, and at first it was mildly annoyed. Yet, it’s a good thing because people are working hard to get the word out about Web 2.0 sites and they know that independent (positive) coverage is critical.
5. Stay on the course. It might be tempting to give up on a Web 2.0 idea, even after you create a team, acquire funding, find your niche audience, and maybe even get a write-up at TechCrunch. I’m convinced that — by far — the most important characteristic in starting a company is just sheer perseverance. Eventually, you can work out the bugs, raise more awareness, and tap into a much bigger user base.