Kevin Rose’s product philosophy, Reddit & Digg’s inverse journeys & Twitter’s new product innovations | This Week in Startups Blog
Products must begin with only 2-3 key features. Once there is traction, you can prioritize what features to build next by asking users for feedback.
Fewer features allow you to launch quicker, at a lower cost, and actually determine if there is product-market fit.
Replacing a founder with “professional management” to commercialize a business often kills the product and company culture. (See Tobi’s Rule EP 1184)
Twitter’s new product roadmap offers an antidote to the chaos of text-based social media, a natural extension that compliments their core product.
NFT & blockchain technologies will revolutionize the ways we manage rights & ownership, despite most projects in the space likely being worthless.
Kevin Rose is a partner at True Ventures, a consumer-focused venture firm with early bets on Peloton, Fitbit, Blue Bottle, Ring and more. He hosts the “Kevin Rose Show” Previously, he founded the social news site Digg, the intermittent fasting app ZERO, and the meditation app OAK.
His most notable investment include: Twitter, Facebook, Zynga, Square, Medium, Foursquare, Nextdoor, Blue Bottle Coffee, Clever, Ripple, Oura.
Kevin’s past This Week in Startups appearances:
“Nothing beats the rush when you launch a new product. The ultimate peak as a founder is to have people using something that you created.”
Some downsides of being a founder include managing people, making hard initial engineering hires, fighting for talent, and having difficulty sleeping.
Kevin prefers building a product in the early stages over trying to scale a growth-stage startup.
A common mistake founders make is not asking for help when they don’t understand how to do something. Great founders seek out mentors and soak up information like a sponge.
For instance, when Mark Zuckerberg visited Digg in the early days of Facebook, Kevin was surprised at how unafraid Zuck was to ask questions and be vulnerable.
Investing is fun because you get to identify companies early on and try to imagine how it could become a multi-billion dollar business (and sometimes that happens!).
There will always be a randomness in investing:
“Some investments, I really did a good job getting the deal done. I tracked down Jack [Dorsey], I had him on my podcast, I convinced him to be an Angel in Square. But the crazy thing is that I’ve had cryptocurrency investments outpace that return, just because somebody asked ‘hey, do you want to throw in some cash on this crazy new up-and-coming project?’ and I put a little bit of money in and it returned a boatload.”
“Pound for pound as product person [Kevin is] part of an elite top 10 alongside Elon, Steve Jobs, and Alex from Calm. When [Kevin] makes a product it just comes out great.”
Creative people are filled with ideas, but you need discipline to boil it down to the simplest version of your product vision.
Pick only two or three things that absolutely must exist and do them really well.
Building fewer features shortens the development timeline down to just a couple of months versus 6-8 months.
Problem: Kevin read promising research on intermittent fasting from Dr. Valter Longo at USC. There were human placebo, double-blinded, “gold standard” studies showing autophagy, improved glucose levels, and reduced chemotherapy side effects. In short, fasting was helping people live longer with less disease.
Market Research: There was nothing on the App Store dedicated to fasting. Using your phone’s timer was inadequate because it didn’t track historical fasting data.
The essential features: Timer + Calendar. Allowing for historical performance, average fast duration, streaks, etc.
Kevin’s subtle fingerprint on Zero: Showing the live number of simultaneous fasters on the platform in order to create a feeling of community, due to the difficulty of fasting – especially in the early stages. “570,345 people are fasting with Zero”
Essentialism creates a clear user value proposition & lets you bring it to market quickly.
Once you have traction, there is an opportunity to add the other features you wanted to build. More importantly, your community is going to start telling you what they want.
Digg would survey 1 in 100 users, asking them to stack-rank the list of features the Digg team wanted to add. By combining the team’s product insight with the input from users, the community was engaged and excited.
Kevin invented the “Like” Button on Digg (called “diggs”).
Don’t get high on your own supply as a product person. Keep trying and keep iterating.
“If you try and fail as many times as I can, you will get some home runs from just the sheer number of times you’ve had the at-bat.”
Jason saw Digg early in 2004 and was impressed with how quickly it became a top source of traffic for his company Weblogs, Inc
Jason got a verbal OK from Weblogs investor Mark Cuban to try to buy Digg for $1M.
Jason’s idea for Mahalo was 10 years too soon: “I knew that search would change from 10 blue links to what it is now. I even came up with that name, ‘comprehensive search.’ What if the images and the video and content were mixed with the search results? -Jason
Branding Mahalo: Jason considered which companies and products had the most beautiful logos. Thunderbird and Firefox came to mind, so Jason tracked down the designer Jon Hicks.
There was a 6-month wait due to the demand for Jon’s design genius, so Jason made a series of aggressive offers to jump to the front of the line. Jon’s Mahalo logo was an instant hit amongst “product-people” like Kevin Rose.
Beware of relying on one source of organic traffic: Mahalo was making thousands of dollars per day from ad revenue. But when Google released the Panda update for search, 90% of Mahalo’s traffic went away overnight. Even with influential connections at Google, Jason was told search was a “black box” and nobody was able to help.
“Professional management” can destroy a product and the culture around it: Digg’s 3.0 redesign made it more commercial, prioritizing publishers instead of the content the community loved. The goal was to become a bigger business, but it destroyed the core product value and eventually led to Kevin’s departure.
Not needing to download a new app reduces friction and it’s easy to get “40 blue checkmarks in a room” on Twitter, since influential people are already there.
Twitter has been slow to add features or change the core product, which they have been lambasted for by power users. However, it’s also a secret sauce to success. Reddit is in a similar boat with their product history.
Twitter Spaces is a natural extension the platform. Audio has the power to create a meaningful dialogue to offset the “dunking” and tensions created from the current lack of tone/context on Twitter.
Social media founders didn’t set out to create chaos online, and these new features can help realize an idealistic vision of an at-scale social product. “I think that you’ll use text until you feel misunderstood or the conversation devolves significantly and someone says ‘you guys should talk it out in a Twitter Space.’” -Jason
“I’ve been tracking NFTs for a long time. I believe there’s going to be a lot of garbage in the space when every artist with Photoshop can become an ‘NFT Master’. But there’s a lot of really credible projects reimagining rights, distribution and ownership.”
Tokenized ownership can allow the creator of an object to receive a portion of the proceeds every time the asset changes hands.
Some potential revolutionary use cases:
Unisocks has dynamically priced socks where the token can be exchanged for the physical product (it’s silly because these are socks but imagine them as Yeezy’s or other high-end collectibles). This allows for price speculation on objects without needing to hold physical inventory.
Backing early musicians, where the owner of the token is entitled to residual music royalties.
Media licensing on the blockchain, where every artist/creator can set the price to license their creation.
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