The Key To A Successful Startup Is Not Its Concept

In this article, a coffee shop entrepreneur laments a more "celebrity" entrepreneur who launched a similar startup but got more traction.

His conclusion: "The difference between the guy in the coffeeshop and the celebrity entrepreneur isn’t just press connections, money, and experience; ultimately it is this combination of factors."

I don't think this is true. A successful startup has very little to do with money and connections. In fact, the article completely misses what actually gets an idea more traction even though it's written right here: "She has a nicer UI. She has funding to pay designers. Hers will have content because she is hiring people to pre-populate the map with it. Most importantly, she’s received more press and buzz for her private beta than we could’ve ever hoped to achieve."

These are what makes a startup successful: an innovative and exciting UI and enough buzz to push people past their existing tools to try out a new tool. The actual concept (which was the same in both startups) is only a small part of what ultimately makes it successful. PR hype and media buzz is artificial but it is crucial to get people's initial attention. You know why invite-only betas are so successful? Because people want what they can't have. It's purely psychological and doesn't have anything to do with the product. When they finally get their hands on the product it better be good! The first impression of a product is its UI. Nothing else matters at that point. If the infrastructure starts to crumble (like it did on Friendster) then people will eventually leave the product. But they will leave the product sooner if the UI is clunky or no better than that of an existing tool they already use. Friendster is a good example because when Facebook launched it had no more or less features than Friendster and the concept was identical; Facebook just worked better and had a much nicer UI.

One of my mentors from when I was starting out in my career, Urb LeJeune, quizzed me once with this question: what makes a successful web product? Is it A) the quality of the code and infrastructure or B) the success of the sales / PR team? I answered well, duh, the quality of the infrastructure. I was wrong. Without sales / PR there would be no product to begin with. Without users you do not have a product. Without a UI you do not have a web application. And so on.