The path to become the [leader X] of [ industry Y]

Modern archeology for founders

Very often founders have their favorite startups / founders which they admire and want to follow the footsteps. In some cases they even tell you that they want to become the X of industry Y (where X is a successful startup and Y the industry where they want to replicate this success).

These leaders didn’t start, well, as leaders and even if what they currently do seems crystal clear, the path to get there was not necessarily a “straight line”.

A very cool exercise is to go on archive.org and to look at the homepage’ evolution of your favorite startups. What’s interesting is not so much the design evolution but the path these startups followed before becoming leaders.

Let’s take 3 examples with segment.io, Hootsuite and Zendesk

Segment => when ‘refining your idea’ is key

Segment is a great example of a startup which had to refine its concept before “nailing it”.

December 2011: segment is in beta

December 2011

December 2012 : one year later still in beta. We learn that the product is a web analytics tool which enables you to segment users, find which ones are about to churn and send them emails. Sounds very similar to what intercom.io was also doing at that time. That was a popular startup concept back in 2011–2012.

December 2012

February 2013: first twist. Now the product, a “tag manager”, lets you manage different web analytics tools. No more user segmentation or transactional emails.

February 2013

December 2013: Segment is an “analytics platform” and integrates more and more services including CRM or marketings services like SalesForce or HubSpot. Going beyond pure web analytics.

December 2013

December 2014: It’s only about “making customer data simple”

December 2014

December 2015: back to a less “abstract” message and a background color which doesn’t hurt your eyes.

December 2015

Main takeaways

Depending on the idea you have and the competition landscape, it can be very complicated to just “get started”.

You can see from Segment journey that their closed beta lasted more than a year and the first public product was quite different from the beta promise (no churn detection or email anymore). So they probably spent this whole time refining the idea together with their first users.

But once they found the right angle they just kept pushing.

For many startups the “refining the initial idea” stage can be very complicated, especially when:

  • You have a clear idea of the problem you’re going after but don’t have a clear idea of the solution / the path.
  • Your idea is the same as many other startups out there and you don’t have a different approach yet (very often the case for “trendy” ideas).

There’s no magic bullet: understanding the market + the problem you want to solve + talking to potential customers as soon a possible make a big difference with the others early stage competitors.

HootSuite: from ‘laser focused’ tool to software platform / suite

Another classical playbook is the “start as a ‘laser focused’ tool and expand until you become a software suite or a platform”.

February 2009: HootSuite is a “Twitter Toolbox”

February 2009

August 2009: transitioning to a “professional client”

August 2009

June 2010: the client now integrates more social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook)

June 2010

November 2011: a complete tool to manage and measure your social networks

November 2011

December 2014

December 2014

Now

December 2015

Main takeaways

The majority of platforms or big software suites didn’t start as platforms or suites. In the majority of the cases they started as a simple tool and grew all the way up. HootSuite didn’t start as a complete social management suite, it started as a Twitter specific tool. Slack didn’t spread among businesses by being a platform. It’s first and foremost a business chat.

Having a big vision and ambition is important. Knowing where to start is harder. Becoming a platform is a consequence, not an initial aim.

Zendesk: when it’s all about consistency

Zendesk is an amazing example of a mission driven company which knew where to start and where to go from day 1( becoming the help desk software leader for the SaaS world).

2007:

July 2008 (the design is broken but it’s due to the archive screenshot)

August 2009

July 2010

May 2012

May 2014

dec 2015

What is amazing here is how consistent the message / approach is during a 8 years period (which does not mean the product didn’t evolve).

An more…

Don’t hesitate to share in the “comments” (a.k.a answers) the playbook of other interesting products.

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