The “now” syndrome

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The news that Twitter is taking further steps to push 3rd party developers off their platform is sending a clear message: we need to make money now. Lots of it. Millions are not enough, billions of dollars is the only thing worth our time. And so in their effort to make billions now, Twitter is slashing and burning the same 3rd party developers that helped to make it the behemoth it is today. To me, in their effort to make billions now it seems they’re risking ending up with nothing later.

This is not to say that crippling their API will ensure their downfall. Twitter’s value extends far beyond just their developer community. But at the very least somewhere in the recesses of HQ the audacious Mr. Caldwell is licking his chops.

Given the huge amount of value that has been built up around their API, instead of putting limits on existing apps and making life difficult on their developer community, one obvious move would be to start charging for API access. Offload the business model problem to the hundreds of smaller more nimble companies that already clone their service, see which ones come up with the best ideas and copy them right back. Instant money.

But, you might say, that will only mean millions now. Twitter needs billions. And that’s exactly the point. They’ve dug themselves into a hole where only big results NOW mean anything. In other words, they’ve caught what I’d like to dub the Now Syndrome.

Now, in Twitter’s case, the Now Syndrome is very real. They have investors, and employees, and infrastructure. They have a lot at stake. But what I find interesting is that I see the Now Syndrome caught by people every day. But instead of crippling their APIs what I see people doing is using it as an excuse not to do things.

When I ask many non-technical founders why they haven’t learned to code this is a pretty common response: I don’t have time, I want to get this out now. They force themselves into this hyper-crunch mode where all they’re concentrated on is getting their app out, making it big and raking in those millions. And it all has to be done as soon as possible.

In theory this is good. Move fast and break things has become something of a startup mantra these days. But when it’s taken to the extreme in this way it has damaging effects. For Twitter, the crunch mode is absolutely real. They need to get these things figured out in a big way, and fast. But for most people, the crunch mode is self-inflicted and also self-defeating.

When you’re in crunch mode you run a greedy algorithm to make your decisions. By greedy what I mean is you’re always making choices that optimize for the local maxima. So when a non-technical founder in crunch mode sits down at work every day and asks themselves what’s the best use of their time:

1.Finding a coder

2.Learning how to code

The answer is obvious: find a coder. Technically that job could only take one day. Learning to code on the other hand could take six months! They don’t have time to learn how to code! The app needs to be out now.

And so what happens? They spend the 6 months they could have used learning to code, trying to find a cofounder instead. They go to hackathons, and events, and conferences. And they come out of those six months with no noticeable results, and no acquired skill to bring them closer to getting their business off the ground.

The greedy algorithm strikes in other ways too. Pricing is a good example here. A greedy algorithm would tell you to charge your early customers as much as you possibly can. That way you’re maximizing the amount of money you make.

This too is a false constraint. You should absolutely charge your early customers. But maximizing the amount of money you make from them should take a back seat to developing a great relationship with them, getting their feedback on the product, seeing how they use it and letting them spread it. You’ll make more money in the long run by charging slightly less while you’re product is still new.

In short, it’s pretty easy to put false constraints on yourself when you’re doing a startup. I tend to do it as well. Part of it is the desire to move as fast as possible. Part of it is just ego. The fact is that when you’re just one guy sitting in a room, you don’t need to put the same kind of pressure on yourself as Twitter has. Doing so is not only not good for your business, it will very likely waste your time.

Get rid of false constraints and move forward.

My name is Dan Shipper and this is my blog. Let me know what you think on Twitter at @danshipper.



17 Aug 2012, 3:56am | 2 comments


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