The Most Common Type of Startup Idea That Probably Won’t Succeed

Over the past few weeks a few friends at school and I have started doing technical consulting for MBAs who have a startup idea but have limited programming knowledge. Basically we run down the technical problems inherent to their ideas, talk to them about finding a technical cofounder and answer other questions they have. The program is called Rent A CTO and over the course of the two meetings I’ve had so far, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting two amazingly smart, talented and humble MBAs that don’t fit the stereotype that startup engineering culture has created to describe the prototypical busines student.

That being said, a common pattern has emerged over the course of these meetings. It’s also one that I’ve noticed over the past year in talking to as many people as I can about startups, and I think it’s a useful one to consider. Both of these entrepreneurs were trying to create what I call the “all-inclusive web app”, i.e. one that beats its competitors by bringing together their disparate features into one mega-app that does everything in the problem space. Essentially it’s the “Kayak-for-x” business model.

Those ideas are great and necessary. But the problem is that they’re unbelievably difficult to execute on. 

The first problem is that they’re almost impossible to whittle down to the MVP. I’m a big believer in creating things fast that solve the problem with the smallest number of features, releasing and then expanding. Case in point is my project DomainPolish or the story of How I Made $350 in Two Days With Three Pages and Some Payment Code. The biggest strength of the all-inclusive web app is that it takes ALL the features in the problem space and combines them. Because of this, eliminating ANY features essentially reduces the product to one if its competitors. This is anti-thetical to the MVP mindset.

The second problem is that because you have to include every feature under the sun for differentiation the feature spec becomes huge. This means that while you’re creating a huge app that you’re sure there’s a market for it takes a long, long time. Any project that takes more than a month to complete has an exponentially lower chance of actually reaching the market in my experience. You end up adding feature on feature on feature for months and months, and then finally just giving up for lack of funds, lack of time, lack of interest or a combination of the three.

And finally, the third problem is designing an interface to support all of these features you’re adding. Unless you’re a UX/UI master, who are incredibly hard to come by despite the protestations in the bios of many an aspiring start-junkie, creating a sleek, simple, and easy to use interface to manage all of these features is next to impossible.

So in considering which ideas to start pursuing, ask yourself: “Is this an all-inclusive app?” If it is, you may want to reconsider trying to build it. It’s not impossible, it’s just really really hard.

If you’ve read this far you should probably follow me on Twitter.

19 Dec 2011, 8:08pm | 2 comments


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