Startups: Why TechCrunch Traffic Can Be Too Much of a Mediocre Thing

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Startups: Why TechCrunch Traffic Can Be Too Much of a Mediocre Thing

 

 There has been a lot of discussion over the past week about the value of the 50-whatever-thousand users that are readers of TechCrunch and how meaningful this is for new startups (particularly web startups). 
 
Note:  I'm not suggesting at all that TechCrunch is mediocre (I'm a regular reader and the "1" in 53,651).  Just that the high volume traffic it generates for you in the first 48 hours is likely of mediocre average value.  Read on...
 
The discussion started originally (I think) with Josh Kopelman’s article about the 53,651 subscribers to the TechCrunch RSS feed.  The argument basically goes that though the TechCrunch readership can generate 5,000-25,000 beta users for a startup very quickly, that these users do not represent mainstream users.  As such, it’s the same uber-geeks, VCs and other early-adopters that look at all new interesting stuff, that wind up on your site, and they are not necessarily interested in yours.  What startups need is to find “real” users that are more representative of their ultimate market. 
 
I agree with these points, and with all the echoes of these same points over the web on this over the past several days.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.
 
What I want to discuss is pacing.  One of the biggest fears I have as a startup is founder that I “use up” the early curiosity that is inevitable with most new products too early.  
 
So, here are my thoughts:
 
Why You Don’t Want TechCrunch To Blog About You, Just Yet (If Ever) 
 

  • I am a really, really big believer in the “get the product out there” mantra.  This is one of the most important things a startup can do, and I often judge the future success of a startup based on how committed they are to getting their product “out there”.

 
  • The second most important thing to getting a product out there is responding to the feedback you get from it being out there, and making the product better.  On my latest startup (HubSpot), which is approaching this “get out there” date, I do not sleep unless the software has gotten better somehow *today*.

 
  • Now, the issue with a flood of new beta users and trial people it is that is nearly impossible to respond effectively to the feedback from all of these people.  This feedback will come from any number of channels.  Emails, people writing bog articles, comments to blog articles, logging in your “feedback” system (if you have one), etc.  It is simply impossible to be able to manage this for a 2-5 person startup.  If you’re anything like me, you have hard enough time keeping up with the feedback you’re getting now (just from your limited circle of beta users).

 
  • Further, much of the early feedback you get from your user-base is going to be similar, and will have many, many “patterns”.  They’ll find the same issues and often have similar requests for missing functionality.  So, instead of getting 25,000 beta-users worth of feedback, you get 25 users worth of feedback – 1,000 times.  Spare me the argument that this kind of data is priceless because it is helpful to know that “5,000 of our beta users want the same stumfabulation feature in your product”.  You’re likely astute enough to figure that out even with a smaller sample size.

 
  • If you don’t have a good mechanism (or the resources) to actually respond to the feedback, which is often the case, you may have missed out on some opportunities as well.  The early-adopter crowd is fickle (or should that be “fickl”) and will likely have moved on to some other shiny new toy by the time you have your software/website/personnel/capital issues figured out.

 
So, let’s look at the alternative, where you remain a little more in control of your destiny:
 
  1. You get to “sprinkle” information about your product on more focused channels (specific blogs, email to colleagues, etc.) and learn a lot more about real people.
  2. You get something like 10-100 users that express interest, sign up for a beta, and give you feedback.  You may even talk directly to a few.
  3. You respond to that feedback (even at this volume, this will not be easy).  You improve your product daily, then work on more visibility.  Lather, rinse, repeat.
  4. You go through a few rounds of this until you are ready to cast a wider net.  With each iteration, the product is getting better, you’re retaining parts of your sanity and your “lock-in” rate (people that stay on board and become “real” customers, however you define that) will be much higher.

 
Summary of My Point:  The biggest value you get from your beta customers and early-adopters is feedback about the product.  However, you’re much better off, where possible, trying to “stage” this adoption – to the degree you have control over it.  Too much visibility, too early has a few problems:  You don’t have a chance to respond.  You only have one chance to make that proverbial first impression and the product is likely not ready for that kind of onslaught anyway.  Once you’re ready (have been through a few round of this stuff), by all means, get crunched on TechCrunch.
 
 
 

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Tue, May 16, 2006

COMMENTS

Interesting thoughts.

I think it depends on your goals as a startup, and where you are in your product development.

If you are very early and looking for capital or business partners, it's a GREAT audience. After being profiled on TechCrunch, we got a pile of job offers, calls from a mess of VCs, and a few acquisition calls. We got emails from several other companies in the job space who wanted to talk about how we could work together. We also got a pile of beta users who gave us some pretty good feedback.

But just because TechCrunch readers don't represent the mainstream doesn't mean that their attention isn't valuable. One thing to consider is the "trickle-down" effect of getting coverage on TechCrunch. As you say, the people who pay attention to TechCrunch are the early adopters. They are also (because of this) likely to blog, have a podcast, and have a mature network of contacts. Being featured on TechCrunch resulted in being featured in a mess of other blogs, newsletters, and magazines, which ultimately got us more attention from mainstream users.

posted on Tuesday, May 16, 2006 at 3:00 PM by


One thing to also keep in mind is how to gather feedback. If you are a new service you will be lucky if those first 10, 50, 100 users even give feedback if you do not make it easy to do so and do not encourage it. They will just stop using your service, and even worse, spread the word that it sucks.

Its important to have a plan and method for gathering feedback and making it known to your beta test users.

posted on Tuesday, May 16, 2006 at 8:01 PM by Dan Marques


Dharmesh:
I think that what you are describing is the difference between a public and a private beta testing period. Once a company opens its beta to the public than its goal should be to get as many press mentions as possible. Releasing a public beta to only a handful of users has all of the drawbacks and few of the upsides of publicity. One primary drawback is that the uber-alpha geeks who limited public betas target most likely includes competitors who are also seeking to capture the market, which gives them an opportunity to learn from your mistakes before you build defensibility through users and/or user generated content. Also, the limited public beta strategy may not be possible for bootsrapping companies that need capital.

I would also respectfully disagree with your statment that:

"[Entrepreneurs are] likely astute enough to figure out [feedback] even with a smaller sample size."

I only have subjective datapoints but my experiences tell me that many entrepreneurs are stubborn and very reluctant to change without overwhelming evidence. I agree that successful entrepreneurs can read between the lines but the vast majority of startups fail.

Anyone intersted in the subject may be interested in my round up of the VCwriting on the subject. Also, given your post and several others recently I may do a round up of non-VC voices on the TechCrunch's influence.

-Andrew

posted on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 12:34 AM by Andrew Fife


okay, my html skills suck here are the links:

Are Great Entrepreneurs Stubborn?
http://andrewbfife.blogspot.com/2006/01/are-great-entrepreneurs-stubborn.html

VC Buzz: Web 2.0 & TechCrunch Influence
http://andrewbfife.blogspot.com/2006/05/vc-buzz-web-20-techcrunch-influence.html

posted on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 12:36 AM by Andrew Fife


I really agree with what this article says. When you launch a site, it is so tempting to try to get as much traffic as soon as possible. But the smarter and more disciplined approach is to get a few users and work out some kinks first.

posted on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 10:31 AM by Trent


I also agree with this article, especially depending on who you are targeting. All TechCrunch would do for us at the moment (given our target market -- NOT early adopters) would be to bring down our site for no good reason. We are doing exactly what Dharmesh outlined -- we're in public Beta, targeting only a few select resources for publicity, but specifically trying to stay under the radar until we're really ready to throw the doors open. And even then, it won't be to the TechCrunch crowd.

Brian

posted on Friday, May 19, 2006 at 9:56 PM by


Wow, this has sure given me a lot to think about I am the lead developer of a new online web based p2p file sharing service called fileswire. Naturally I was going to anounce it at tech crunch but I think I may hold off a while now. You can find the service at <a href ="http://www.fileswire.com">www.fileswire.com<a/>

posted on Saturday, May 03, 2008 at 12:46 PM by marvin


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