Dharmesh Shah

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The 10 Most Tempting Software Startup Categories

By Dharmesh Shah on March 1, 2010

I’ve been in the software startup business for a long time.   One thing I have found interesting is that amongst first-time software entrepreneurs, certain “patterns” of applications kept recurring.  Time and time again, entrepreneurs are tempted by one of these application categories.  Not that it’s always a bad thing — I just found it curious.stealing cookies OnStartups


1. Project Management / Time Tracking / Bug Tracking

This is likely because the developer had to work at some point with existing software that just sucked and thought “Hey, I can build something better in a weekend and it will do exactly what I want.  It’ll support custom fields, and query-by-example and persistent views and all sorts of neat stuff.”

2. Community / Discussion Forums

The developer was kicking off a new online community for whatever hobby area she was interested in.  Poked around looking for something to meet her needs, but there was nothing appealing.  “Hey, this is easy — the data model is trivial and I can use this project to learn about this new web framework I’ve been meaning to play with.”

3. Personalized News Aggregation/Filtering

I’m not exactly sure why this one keeps cropping up.  I think the reason is that it seems obvious that there’s just much more information out there than any normal person can consume.  The entrepreneur arrives at some interesting angle on how to better filter the information.  Could be individual voting/learning mechanisms, social features (your friends liked this stuff, so you will too).

4. Content Management (website, blog)

Another one of those seemingly simple apps (“how hard could it be?”) combined with the fact that it’s often harder to learn some existing system and make it do what you want than just hacking together a “minimalist” application (that over time, becomes less and less minimal).

5. Social Voting and Reviews

This ones newer to the scene.  These applications allow users to vote/rate/review something (movies, books, wines, whatever).

6. Music/Events Location Application

What the world really needs is a way to figure out when their favorite band is going to be in town.  Connect with your friends!  Figure out where they’re going!  Hook-up!

7. Dating and Match-Making

This one requires no explanation.  As is the case with most of these application categories, entrepreneurs often like to “scratch their own itch”.

8. Personal Information Management

I think this one is really common because it’s often one of the early applications developers build to learn something new.  “Hey, I can use this new ORM system to track my DVD collection.  It’ll take just 50 lines of code!”

9. Social Network For ______

These were happening well before MySpace and Facebook.  In this case, the application is not completely trivial — but that’s what makes it a bitt more tempting.  The data models can be rich and if one has some UI chops, it’s often a fun application to work on.

10. Photo/video/bookmark/whatever sharing

As humans, we like to share stuff.  The appeal of this application is it’s broad appeal (hey, my girlfriend needs a way to share her photos from her recent trip to Brazil). 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that building an application in any of these categories is doomed to failure.  I just find it curious that these specific themes tend to occur again and again. 

Did I miss any?  Which application categories do you think entrepreneurs are lured by?  Do you just happen to be working on a fun little project that falls into one of these categories?

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Why I Wish My Competitors Well And You Should Too

By Dharmesh Shah on February 22, 2010

I’m going to start with a story — which includes a confession.


When I started my first company, I didn’t start with a grand mission.  The idea behind the business wasn’t transformational.  It wasn’t going to change the world.  Historians weren’t going to write about it after I was dead.  And all of that was OK.  Even though there was no grand mission — I was solving a problem and meeting a market need that I cared about.  Wait, let me clarify that a bit.  I cared in the sense that if I didn’t solve it, I was restless.  I couldn’t let it go.  I wasn’t satisfied with the way the problems in that industry were being solved and the solutions that other companies were offering.  That’s what drove me for 10+ years with that startup. onstartups competition

It wasn’t until much later (well after I had sold that first company), that I gave the topic some additional thought.  How do you know whether or not you care about the problem you’re working on?  Here’s my litmus test:

1.  Define the problem you’re solving in reasonably broad terms.

2.  Answer yes/no:  If the problem was somehow magically “solved” (to your satisfaction), but you weren’t the one that solved it, would you be fine with it?

Let me clarify by shifting back to my story:  In the niche market I was working in, the problem I was working on was relatively small.  But, if one day, I woke up and learned that somehow the problem was magically solved — even if it was by a competitor, I would have been fine.  A little miffed that they had beaten me, but still OK.  As long as they really solved it.  I could have stopped toiling away the sleepless nights working on that particular problem and I would have found other problems to work on.  The concept here is:  You care enough about a problem that you don’t necessarily mind if someone else solves it.  What really frustrates us entrepreneurs is when competitors win, but they don’t actually solve the problem.

One way to explain this concept better is to look at an extreme example.  Lets say the problem you were working on was curing cancer.  Of course, you’d be passionate about finding a cure.  You’d be working hard.  It’s an important problem, and it’s not surprising that you care.  Now, imagine if you woke up one day to learn that someone else had created a cure.  You’d be glad that the problem was solved — even though it wasn’t you that solved it.  Sure, it would have been great to get the fame and glory, but that surely wouldn’t cause you to wish the other scientists/researchers/doctors ill.  Nope.  You’d wish them well.  Why?  Because fundamentally, you care about having the problem solved.

Now, with my current startup, HubSpot, I’m still passionate.  But the problem happens to be much, much bigger.  This time it’s transformational.  This time it’s a mission.  I’m working furiously on this startup too.  I co-authored a book, “Inbound Marketing” on the topic.  I’m doing a fair amount of public speaking (despite the stress it causes me).  I believe we’re on the path of truth and justice (we’re helping small businesses grow and reducing junk mail, spam, and marketing calls that interrupt you at dinner).  We’re hoping to be the ones that end up transforming the marketing industry.  But, if someone else ends up doing it, and winds up delivering on our mission, well, then, more power to them. 

I care enough about the problem that I don’t mind if someone else solves it.  That’s why I truly wish my competitors well. 

But, just because I wish them well doesn’t mean I’m going to make it easy for those competitors.  After all, like you, I’m an entrepreneur and as such, I’m fiercely competitive.

Summary:  When possible, work on really big problems.  They’re more fun, and it’s easier to get excited.  But, even if you’re not working on a really big problem, it’s OK, as long as you at least care enough about the problem you are solving that you don’t care who solves it.  You just want it solved.

What do you think?

Topics: strategy
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