Thursday, November 19, 2009

Social Media Entrepreneurship: A Case Study

We recently caught up with Rashmi Sinha at the Web 2.0 Conference in New York City. Her company, Slideshare, is an interesting case study in entrepreneurship and social media. It’s also a story of passion, hard work, and adventure. One of our favorite of her quotes: “Never be afraid. Just do it. Fear is the biggest killer.”

Slideshare was launched in October 2006. 5 half-timers worked on it then. 22 full-timers (and 3 contractors) work on it now.

Stages of Growth
Stage 1. Utilitarian-driven purpose site for people to share slides with others
Stage 2. Online community comments and rates content AND visits those who upload slides
Stage 3. People uploading slides realize Slideshare's power as a distribution channel – a way to get more people to their blogs, websites, etc. The business explodes.

Attracting Users
Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch heard about it (from a well-placed Slideshare contact) and wrote about it. Traffic to Slideshare spiked significantly. If you can’t get Michael Arrington to write you up (he was one of Time Magazine's 2008 most influential people in the world), then, as Kevin Rose (Founder of Digg) said in an earlier conversation, reaching out to a junior writer at Tech Crunch can be effective. (Rashmi agrees.)

11 Lessons Learned

1. Solve one problem. Stay focused. Slideshare was growing fast, but the money-maker was a previous product. The company ultimately had to give up the previous product to focus on Slideshare (even though money-making power of Slideshare was not yet proven - that takes guts and faith).
2. Speed is critical. When you’re small, speed is your advantage against the giants. Slideshare launched in the shadow of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets. Google Powerpoint was next. People asked, “What are you going to do when Google launches Google PPT? They’re going to kick your ass.” Slideshare wasn’t concerned because they were smaller, more nimble… and they were share-based, not author-based like Google.
3. Ideas are dime a dozen. It’s really about the execution. Everyone has the same ideas. Unique ideas are rare.
4. What to build. Products we use ourselves.
5. How to launch. Slideshare put it up, gave it to friends, and collected feedback. They built enough to get concept across, but not so much that it was fleshed out completely.
6. Focus on users, not competitors. Focus. On. Users.
7. Don’t spend too much time on business develop. In year one, Rashmi was advised (and highly recommends) to not talk about business development ideas with other companies. Big companies will come to you and want you to develop something. They will have a team of people on it. You won’t. They will have time to explore ideas on how design and backend will work for their specific company. You won’t. You’ll want to focus on your company, not others' (at least at first).
8. Use metrics to make decisions. For web-based businesses, metrics are abundant. Identify the ones critical for your business, track them, and incorporate into the decision-making process.
9. Hire design engineers. Developers are important, but an intuition of or experience with design is critical, particularly as design becomes increasingly critical to business.
10. Find your community. Who do you care about? Figure it out and get close to them. For Slideshare, there are two main constituencies: People who upload and People who view. Slideshare has decided to focus on the those who view, to optimize the experience of the users. They're already giving distribution to uploaders, so they're focusing on simplicity for the user (e.g., not offering animation on slides, even though uploaders want it, because that would not keep it simple for users)
11. Outsource complexity. Outside of your competencies, outsource when you can.

Other Interesting Tid-bits from Rashmi
- Business media sites are easier to monetize than consumer media sites.
- Hire people, not from school, but from open source community.
- All angel investment came from Slideshare users - the company emailed them and they responded, some of them handsomely. Mark Cuban, internet billionaire and sometimes-controversial owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, was one of them.

At the End of the Day
Rashmi speaks passionately about Slideshare - from that time in the beginning to the things they're working on now. You can tell she is driven by a passion that gives her comfort and confidence in saying things like "Just do it" "Fear is a killer" "We weren't worried about Google." She's clear on who her core audience is: the end-user. It's this passion-driven clarity that has allowed her company to pass up many lucrative business opportunities (e.g., enterprise software) on behalf of their end-user and remain successful, if not moreso because of it. Once again it's clear: Follow your passion, and the rest will follow.

1 comment:

  1. Ideas are dime a dozen. It’s really about the execution. Agree, only action counts! Young internet entrepreneurs and their business stories -''The YES Movie''produced by Louis Lautman ,