For the unitiiated, Marc Andreessen (the co-founder of Netsape) started blogging a few weeks ago. Marc is on a serious role so far, providing all sorts of gems about the in’s and out’s of a starting a technology venture and hiring the right teams. If you aren’t tracking it and this stuff interests you, don’t miss it.
In Marc’s most recent post, he expounds upon the only thing that matters when thinking about a startup. In sum, the only thing that matters according to Marc is the market. You may have a great team and a stellar product, but if the market isn’t there you’ll most likely fail, according to Marc.
With all due respect to Mr. Andreessen, I think his conclusions are not only wrong, but sadly discouraging. Innovation, invention, those great out-of-left-field ideas that someone is tenacious enough to bring to product and introduce them in a clear way. The ideas that not only fufill a need, but create wants. The ideas that, in effect, create markets.
On every corner and side street in New York City, there is either a street coffee vendor or a deli or coffee shop ready and willing to sell you coffee for $.50. Could anyone have foreseen the “market” for Starbucks to wedge its way into practically every 100 meters in New York City and sell their coffee for three to four times as much? Where did that market come from?
The portable music player market existed for years before the iPod came along. The market was effectively demarcated by the early players like Diamond (which eventually became Rio). And then, the iPod came along and absolutely obliterated the boundaries of what everyone presumed the portable music market to be.
Marc sort of addresses those rare market-creating products that come along every so often, but he frames it in a “product/market fit” argument. The failing there is that he’s writing off the market as some fixed, pre-defined entity. The task of the startup is to somehow make your product fit within it.
I’d much prefer to view the dance between product and market as something far more fluid and highly reciprocal. A product can expand, and in rare cases, create a market. A market can inevitably drive the strategic direction of a product. Factors like ease-of-use, elegant design, and aesthetics that can evoke emotions and loyalty, and others can help shape wants that we never would have conceived of prior.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record on this blog, this is again about honing in a real need (or want) and attacking it with good design. Good design broadens your potential market and can create loyalty that is nearly impossible to attain otherwise.
But even if we forget design for a second, what of the market for phonographs? Or moving pictures? Or a toaster? How would Thomas Edison react to Marc’s argument? Wait…how would Marc circa 1993 react to Marc’s argument today?