The New Internet Has Forgotten About Value

You will have to excuse my ramblings in this post, but I am having one of those days where I am cleaning house on all of the services I’ve signed up for and no longer use. 

Every day we read about new startups from your Techcrunches, Mashables, and Om Malik’s of the world.  There is never a short supply of somebody starting something, even if that something is just a rip off + twist X of an existing company / service.  I’m involved in a number of startups myself and absolutely love the challenge of building something from the ground floor.  It’s stressful as hell, but very rewarding (even when things don’t work).

The niche play seems to have become the ultimate startup model.  I think the thought process of founders goes something like:

1. Pick an obscure niche where nobody plays.  i.e. – Blonde Female Lawyers who Own Pug Dogs.

2. Build some kind of social network / tool for these people, with an emphasis on social because that seems to be where the money is right?

3. Launch said service.

My big question to all of these niche plays is, where’s the value? I’m a tech junky, so I try all kinds of new services and products just because they sound cool.  More often than not however, I stop using the new and shiny thing because it really doesn’t add much value to my life.  If it’s not helping me, and it isn’t an enormous amount of fun, good bye.  I’m sure it adds something for someone, but is it enough to hang the “viable business” hat on it?  I’m starting to question how much value Facebook brings to my life.  It was fun at first, but all it really does for me is enable the awkward haven’t seen you in 10 years conversation with old high school friends.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of startups that have some really great value propositions.  Products like Xobni, Jott, Basecamp and services like Flickr, Twitter all bring solid value to their customers.  I actively use all of these except for Jott, which I would like to try.

I’m going to avoid naming names and picking on these companies as I don’ believe in cutting anybody down, but you have all seen one example of this type of business.  The ones that make you think “who the hell would use that?”, or “Do we really need another travel review site?”

If you are thinking about starting a company, take a step back and ask yourself if what you are thinking of doing is going to provide value to a decent sized target demographic.  I especially like ideas that have a value proposition which enables repeat customers or has a strong “sticky” effect.