As always, I feel like I have to say some stuff before I make a post like this.
There are no hard and fast rules. Don’t take what I say as such. These are more like guiding principles that will get most people to where they want to get to. Lots of sites will probably ignore some or all of what I have to say and they’ll still achieve significant success. Moving on…
Step One: The Idea
Obviously you need to have an idea. There are really simple ways to come up with ideas… think about what you’d like to have, but isn’t out there. If you can’t think of anything, ask family and friends what they’d like or what annoys them about the web. If you can’t come up with something doing that, then you probably aren’t meant to start a website. In the poker community, let’s say someone says they want a really cool client program that looks a lot like FTP or Stars, but just has things like tournament schedules, poker email, poker IM, poker videos, hand replaying, tournament results (maybe fed from a site like thepokerdb), blog feeds, etc. It’s a pretty obvious idea. People like poker manager have done it, although I think everyone knows it could be done significantly better. So you want to do it. Now what?
Well first, that isn’t really a website, but we’ll continue with this example anyway. The first thing I *always* think about with a product is “what is the user getting out of it”? Or, more specifically, “what does the user think they’re getting out of it”? Don’t think of your business as deception. Think of it as an exchange. Your job is to get inside the mind of your potential users and serve that set of people as best as possible while still making money.
For instance, with PSDollars, users say to themselves “great, I can get cash for these W$ that I don’t want to use”. Sure there are people out there who say “well you could get more elsewhere” (obviously I know that) but put yourselves in the shoes of the user.
Here’s a scenario: Users are on thepokerdb, they’re looking up a player and they win a satellite. They can get $200 or whatever instantly for their T$215. What if it’s 9 PM and they have a kid to put to sleep and a wife who is getting angry that they’ve been playing poker for four hours on a Sunday afternoon? They don’t know about 2p2, other trading websites, etc. They just want to get their $200 and send it to their ePassporte so they can use the $ for a few bills.
That particular user is thinking, this is by far the easiest, fastest and most reliable way for me to get my money. Sure he could get another $10 somewhere else, but he doesn’t know that and he probably doesn’t even care that much. Ignorance is bliss in so many situations. For example, an incredible number of people use the actual AIM client because, quite frankly, they don’t care enough to look around for something better like pidgin or digsby. Even the people using trillian don’t realize what they’re missing. In fact, I’d bet most people who read this post are saying to themselves, what are those programs? What’s better about them? I’m used to what I have, reading about these is too complicated, I don’t want to switch. That is exactly the type of person you’re dealing with — always keep that in mind. People have an irrational inertia within their minds and it isn’t like only stupid people are like that — it’s everyone, myself included.
So how does that all relate back to the client-side poker program? Well, where’s the incentive for the user? In the case of PSDollars, the incentive is that the user needs the money. In the case of thepokerdb, the incentive is that people like to a) look themselves up, b) brag to their friends, c) look up other people at the table and possibly most importantly d) try to help themselves make a decision in a tough spot. So with those two sites, once you realize what people are thinking, you can provide exactly what they’re looking for and, in theory, succeed relatively easily. With the program we’re discussing, what are they really getting out of it?
Even though I listed off those ideas at the top as if they were good, I’m convinced a bunch of them aren’t. Things like a poker IM client are pretty retarded in my opinion. Why would anyone switch? Do you really plan to outdevelop Microsoft, AOL, Google and Yahoo? If so, good luck to you sir. What would EVER compel someone to enter into competition with those people? It just doesn’t make sense. People have established buddy lists on all sorts of IM clients and they aren’t going to switch to yours just because it has some sort of poker theme to it.
Or what about poker email? That’s a terrible idea too. Despite the fact that Gmail was the class of the web email industry when it was released (and it still is imo, even though others have gotten better), Hotmail and Yahoo Mail still dominated the web mail industry on a numbers basis. No one is going to switch to some two-bit email operation where they’re scared of people having access to their passwords and private information. It’s just silly to do something like that.
There are lots of other problems with the idea that I listed, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that when you want to develop a business, you can brainstorm easily. But before you say, “oh, great, 10 out of 12 people said this was a good idea” be sure to think it through. What would you include? Why would people use it? Would you use it if you saw it mentioned in passing on a poker forum? Get inside the minds of your users and never forget that you’re fighting irrational levels of inertia.
I’ll continue this discussion in future posts.