When copying business tactics, check the timestamp
People who love building products spend a lot of time thinking about what makes their favorite products great. So it’s very common for startup founders to look at a successful product, comprehend an important principle underlying it’s success, and try to replicate that in their own products. Great artists steal, after all.
But this leads to a common mistake—using the tactics of a successful product in the context of a fledgling one. The greatest features of Facebook, Yelp, and Amazon arecapitalizing on the success they’ve already attained, taking advantage of network effects they built with earlier growth tactics.
Your new user-generated review site will not be positioned as “the place to get reviews for X”. It first needs to be the place to write reviews for X. Yelp is about 98% passive readers and 2% prolific reviewers, but at first it had to be 100% reviewers. What will attract the reviewers, if not readers?
I got to know a guy who is Yelp Elite and has been for years, and I got to meet some of these reviewers. It turns out one of their favorite features of Yelp is the forums, a feature I had never heard of until meeting these folks. Why forums? Because Yelp has cultivated a unique offline, real-world community of Yelp reviewers in every city, and the forums are how these new friends keep in touch and plan their get togethers. That’s pretty incredible. For most people, Yelp tells you what restaurant or bar to try, but for the Elite, Yelp it it’s own community of new friends who share your passion for food.
So when looking at the most successful companies, we should learn from their history, not their present. I haven’t found a book on the early days of Yelp (I’d love to hear about one) but you can definitely read about Amazon’s history. I don’t think they started with a recommendation engine.