I wanted to read about what NOT to do as an entrepreneur, so I picked up the latest Inc. Magazine from the newsstand. Jonathan Abrams, the founder of Friendster and the man credited with launching the social networking concept, is on the cover. Abrams took a beating at Friendster, but he’s only 37 and he looks fit for the ring again. Which is good, since he has a new social service currently in gamma.
I’d like to tell you all the secrets I found in this article but there aren’t any. What there is, is bitching about VCs and how unwise it is for an entrepreneur to work with their odds—roughly two hits out of 20 attempts. But we knew that. There’s also the fact that Abrams and company took their eye off solving customer problems (via consistent product improvements). Never a good move.
The most noteworthy tidbit I can glean from the piece is this:
Unbeknownst to Abrams, Sassa, and Friendster’s investors, demand for social networking was changing. The lure of Friendster–and, to a much greater extent, MySpace–was not the elegant web of connections but rather the opportunity to gawk at strangers. Rather than using Friendster to make dates, most of its users were simply cruising around and looking at the weird interests, pictures, and blog-droppings of strangers (including so-called “fakester” profiles of Jesus and Burt Reynolds). Real-life connections, the core of Abrams’s vision, were not quite as relevant as he’d imagined. Thus, the free-spirited MySpace, which allowed anyone to look at anyone else’s profile and didn’t bother to calculate connections, took off. The site surpassed Friendster by the end of 2004 after only a year in business. A mere nine months later, it would be clocking 22 million unique users per month in the U.S., compared with 1.1 million for Friendster.
Here we have something. The founder’s lofty vision of what the site could be got in the way of what the market actually wanted from it. It’s easy to see how this could happen, but from a purely business perspective there’s no excuse for it.