It will take some big and different thinking to change the Internet world again. What Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook, Steve Jobs did with Apple, what Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai have done it with Foursquare, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams are doing with Twitter, all changed the way we communicate, and influenced our daily behaviors.(This especially rings true in the Forbes profile of Napster, Plaxo, Facebook and Spotify’s Sean Parker.)
Not everyone with an idea spins it into the 10 million user triumph that is Foursquare, the over-200 million that is Twitter and the staggering 800 million that use Facebook. Emerging as the next Internet product hero certainly feels more attainable for those capable with university graduate programs like New York University’s Tisch School Interactive Telecommunications Program that schooled alum such as Crowley and Selvadurai, and the computer science majors at Stanford who are expected to graduate as the founding partner of a useful yet hip startup.
We spoke with two graduates of NYU’s ITP program, Alex Kauffmann and Jason Bill Aston, about how to disrupt the online culture, and create the next big thing.
Solve a problem
Figure out why you or anyone will want this product. Does it provide a solution to a problem?
“Would-be entrepreneurs are often enamored by technology—they’re constantly producing amazing solutions to problems that don’t exist,” says Kauffmann. An example of such unnecessary technology was the Google Wave. A counter example, according to Kauffmann is Echoecho.
Personalize your idea
Personalization is the critical component, the sustainable trend of everything from advertisements, and apps to technologies. Their success comes from catering to the needs of the user.
“Companies [are always scrambling] to obtain, through any means, information about users and potential customers,” says Aston. “Groupon is successful because it hits you with deals that relate to what you already buy and/or need, or, think you need. Pandora curates music according to what you listen to. Foursquare honors you and rewards you according to yourfrequency at locations you already go to.”
Make big promises and deliver a big product
Choose strong, collaborative team members who stand out individually as these power teams could be “disassembled and sold for parts,” says Kauffmann.
“A polished app is a sign of good designers, robust coding, and solid project management,” says Kauffmann. “A clearly defined and original value proposition can be proof of creativity and an executable vision. A realistic scaling plan sets the team apart from the large majority of entrepreneurs who believe that if they build it, users will come.”
To really think about investors simply, understand that “investors are really only on the lookout for how many users you can rope in with your idea,” says Aston. “The greater the reach, the greater the promise, and this translates into money.”
Focus on what you want vs. what you think others will pay for
Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley first created Dodgeball simply to make it easier to meet up for beers with his buddies.
“So work on something absurd and wonderful that you’re interested in,” says Kauffmann. “Good ideas tend to scale up.”
But don’t totally ignore the trends in human behavior
Everybody wants to do, feel, be and look better and the productivity, health and life simplification apps like Nike+ and Wii Fit are proof of these desires. But just because a ton of people want to improve themselves doesn’t mean this is the best market for an Internet product to make bank.
“People want to be better, [but often these apps don’t] necessarily translate to success,” says Aston. “Like New Year’s resolutions, the drop off is pretty steep for products and apps like these. I find myself using them for the first week because they are either effective, well designed or popular, only to have it take up space in my living room or iPhone.”
Users love Games
Angry Birds is a phenomenal success.
Additionally, “Roxio, Zynga produce these non-committal diversions that take us away from the toil of the day,” says Aston. “We are in Angry Birds as we step onto the train, and as we pull into our station. Game design is extremely difficult to master, but when it is, the results can prove quite profitable.”
Focus on changing the community vs. the world
Thinking locally before globally is more practical and how all the Internet greats got their start.
“There is a great opportunity, a worthy opportunity, that exists, and especially in big cities like New York, to create civic minded apps and technology that improves our way of life,” says Aston. “Try to get it right here, and it can then be ported all over the world.”
Envision beyond the social network
Keep a look out for mobile integration, as a subset of the transmedia storytelling and gaming platform, says Aston: “It’s how do you get people to use there phones that, somehow integrate with their favorite TV show and augment the experience. There's potential in immersive media and gaming, at least in terms of helping cement a truly gratifying experience.”