Imagine if you had entered college in 1999 and left grad school in 2005. You wouldn’t know much of the dot-com boom and the bizarre billion dollar acquisitions of companies that had not made a single dollar and had no clear chance or plan of ever doing so. The tech boom of 2010 would seem a new and momentous event. The automobile revolution of the early 21st century, not the tulip craze. Should you meet a naysaying curmudgeon from the last decade, and need a voice to counter his pessimism, Don Dodge would be your man. Here he is, talking about the mind-boggling billion dollar acquisition of photo-mutilation service Instagram by Facebook – he will have none of the incredulity over a billion dollar price on a product that can be built out in a week:
Success looks easy from a distance. Technology seems simple if the design is great. Attracting great founders and early employees just means rounding up some of your friends. Raising money is always easy, right? Getting great press stories just takes a few emails. Attracting influential users just sort of happens. Viral growth is a simple formula. Solving a problem that millions of people care about is just luck.
He’s being sarcastic, of course. His point is that it’s not the ability to code up Instagram in a week that matters:
From a technical point of view there isn’t much difference between Instagram, Path, Oink, Hipster, or a bunch of other companies that all do essentially the same things. Mobile, social, photo apps that include comments and some type of friend/follow model. Why is one worth $1B and another shut down with no value? It isn’t about the technology or how long it took to build.
Taken together, these two quoted sections, and the refinements that he offers later in the piece (“first mover advantage”, “design”, “timing and luck”), form Dodge’s defence of Instagram:
Technology can be replicated, timing and luck can’t.
Read the rest of this entry »