Wednesday, February 25, 2009

StackOverflow: Finding Success in Failure

"what's so special about stack overflow that isn't already out there in the zillion other QA forums on the web?...Joel and Jeff need to read the book "Blue Ocean Strategy" and re-think this idea."
--My comments on StackOverflow 10 months ago

OK, I was wrong.  Extremely wrong.  StackOverflow has become one of the best resources for software developers around.  It's the classic success story--great concept, well coded, explosive take-off.  Over 100,000 questions have been posted so far with no end in sight.

If I believed in the typical "business book" script I'd go on about how the brilliant concept, the great developers, the teamwork and the pod casts came together to make this great software. . .  but that would be a lie.  Lots of start-ups have good ideas, great developers, good teamwork and podcasts. Then they fall flat.

StackOverflow had something very special that 99% of start-ups don't have--business skills.  Jeff Attwood is the author of a successful blog.  Joel Spolsky runs Fog Creek Software--in high cost New York City of all places--and also runs a major blog.  Yes, blogging is a business--good bloggers know how to package and promote a "product".  The hit counter is a brutal measure.

Every business is long on ideas and short on resources--particularly a start-up. Founders must brutally focus on what really matters.  Which means they have to KNOW what matters. Experienced businesspeople aren't always right--but they are right a whole lot more often.  Jeff and Joel were right.

StackOverflow is a businessperson's dream. Unlike most start-ups it is dripping with opportunities to make money.  First, everything on the site is tagged and most users on the site are identified up front. That means advertising can be targeted, relevant and use less space.  Secondly, StackOverflow has tapped into a powerful meta-concept.  There is nothing about StackOverflow that explicitly requires it be a programming site.  The StackOverflow framework could easily become a service made available to any paying company wanting a more effective forum.

Congratulations Jeff, Joel and team. I look forward to seeing whatever project you come up with next.  I promise I will think long and hard before joining the chorus of nay-sayers next time!

4 comments:

  1. Don't forget stackoverflow.com has something else most other startups don't have. It is backed by celebrities (at least in their field). Thousands of people had heard about this 6-8 weeks before it launched and were eager to use it the day it entered beta.

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  2. Fame can help kick a product off, but if the product itself isn't what the market wants it dies off rather quickly. Eric Sink's experience with winnable solitaire is a good example:
    http://www.ericsink.com/entries/wsol_sold.html

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