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My Engagement Through Path

On May 10th, I got engaged to the most incredible girl in the world. This was obviously a huge moment in my life.

Leading up to the day, I was nervously planning how it would go down (as all guys do). I wanted the experience to be memorable and special since this would be a story she tells for the rest of her life.

I decided to create a scavenger hunt around Gainesville, FL (where we met and went to school). I had all the locations picked and notes at each. The only issue I had was tracking where she was at so I would know when to be ready at the final stop.

Path is a private social network that allows you to connect with your closest friends. When posting photos, Path shares location data, as well as the time. This seemed perfect.

I wrote the notes she would find at each location to include her posting a picture to Path at each spot. This served two purposes: 1.) I would know where she was at and 2.) to allow my friends (who knew what was going on) to follow from thousands of miles away and be a part of our special day.

Things went perfectly (other than a brief 45 minute detour where she got lost).

The bottom line, while many people doubt the staying power and questionable growth tactics of Path, it was the social network I turned to to share one of the most important days of my life. I don’t believe Path is the company to provide this solution for the next 30 years. However, whether Path seeks an exit or is reaching for too high of a valuation, people will do whatever necessary to share every important moment with those they care about. And that will never change.

 

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Where’s the House of Cards Talk?

imagesWith the release of House of Cards, Netflix moved from only a distribution company to also being a content creator. Most people watching the show couldn’t care less who made the show, only that it is entertaining (and it doesn’t disappoint). Netflix has already announced they plan to release at least five more original shows a year going forward.

While I love binge watching Netflix shows (and apparently I’m not alone), does watching shows this way ruin what we enjoy about TV? Major shows and events are not standalone experiences. In the past, this has meant talking about a big game or favorite show the next day with coworkers. Now it is the ongoing Twitter conversations happening during every awards show or major event. These additional conversations are not just complementary, but can even supplant the original experience (see the Super Bowl power outage).

So much emphasis has been placed on capturing the “second screen” in recent years. Twitter is obviously leading this effort, but many other services are built to encourage engagement during events. It seems Netflix is circumventing the competition of a second screen by releasing shows all at once.

The issue with eliminating the second screen is that it actually detracts from the show by not allowing the conversation to occur around it. People don’t talk about House of Cards with friends out of fear of ruining the show for someone else. Even if you do talk about the show, what can you talk about? I finished season 1 already and you just watched episode 2 – you have no idea the things Frank Underwood will do! In an effort to provide new content, Netflix has lost control of the conversation around their shows.

I think it’s also important to note that Netflix has not actually killed the second screen. Viewers are still on their phones/tablets during the show, but now they are engaging with unrelated content. This only acts to further devalue a show or event.

Netflix has said “the goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” HBO obviously has struggled with distribution (actively rejecting customers who don’t have cable), but they have been able to maintain the conversations around their shows. While House of Cards is a first step in the right direction, maybe original content isn’t the only mountain Netflix has left to climb.

Customer First, Nothing Second

Since Fred Wilson’s “Mobile First, Web Second” post a few years back, there has been a lot of discussion over its claim. We have seen “Web Second, Mobile First“, “APIs First“, and Wilson has even revisited the topic in the past few months.

Everyone has their opinion on the ‘right’ approach. The problem with framing the issue in a right or wrong strategy is it neglects the most important part of any business: the customers.

Unless you’re Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, you should be directly asking customers what they want. The focus is uncovering customer problems and building a product to solve them. This seems like such an obvious solution, yet it is so frequently neglected (especially with early stage startups). Many businesses are so focused on building something beautiful that solves a “problem”, they neglect the masses that will be using their product.

It’s time to stop debating the best strategy with colleagues and instead let the customer define the product*.

*Most people don’t know how to handle customer development. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovitz is a must read. Jason Evanish has also wrote a helpful blog post here.

Is the Hotel Industry Dead?

Today I had the chance to hear from a past executive of a major travel and hotel booking site. It was interesting to learn how he built an Internet company starting as early as 1991 with some genius strategies (90 day float, affiliate programs). He clearly knew this vertical very well with 30+ years of experience.

After his presentation, I wanted to hear his thoughts on the future of the industry with the growth of Airbnb and similar services. When asked, he cut me off to let me know that Airbnb is in a different market than hotels. He argued Airbnb is for bargain shoppers who “sleep on couches and share rooms”, not for more serious travelers (even though ~20% are business travelers). He said Airbnb has too many unknowns for people to actually use the service (only 10 million of them).

The conversation defines the Innovator’s Dilemma in the travel industry (Mark Suster does a much better job describing the concept here). The incumbents view travel startups as not having the inventory and ability to scale. The startups will focus on a new subset of customers that they can give a better deal (average of $117 per night compared to $188 for hotels). As the customer base grows, others will realize the service of Airbnb might be enough to replace the hotel experience for a fraction of the cost. At this point, the incumbent can either cut prices and follow the lead of the new player, or raise prices and add features to appease their customers. Both lead to failure.

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Again, this exec had over 30 years experience, so I wasn’t about to argue with him. But when I left, it was clear that Airbnb will not just keep disrupting the industry, but they still aren’t even viewed as a threat. Startups overtaking incumbents are inevitable in any vertical, maybe the time is coming for the hotel industry.

Startup Weekend

This past weekend, I participated in Startup Weekend in Gainesville, FL. I’ve heard how great these events are, so I had to check it out for myself.

After attending, I left with a few thoughts:

  • Startup Weekend is insane. – People are everywhere, heads down building for two straight days. I would expect most attendees accomplish more in the 54 hours than they would in several months otherwise.
  • DEVELOPERS – At SW, I felt what every founder is going through. Demand for developers != supply. There were 100+ people at the event with ~30 developers. And don’t even think about mobile devs, there were <5. This put a serious strain on the event. People had great ideas, but no way to build.
  • Summer camp – I couldn’t help but feel like I was at summer camp during SW. Between everyone staying up all night drinking energy drinks to kids giddy about their “huge” ideas, it almost seemed fake. I’m no expert by any means, but this is nothing like my experience with founders building companies. I think SW is great for projects, but doesn’t seem ideal for building companies.
  • Demo Day – Most rewarding part of the weekend. Nothing makes you believe in a product quite like pitching it to a panel of judges and hundreds of people. Awesome experience.
  • Comfort zone – Does not exist. I had no intention of pitching on Friday… I did. My project was selected as one of the top ideas to work on. I had no intention of presenting on Sunday… I did.

Overall, my first Startup Weekend was great. I have no plans to continue working on the product I helped build, but going through the process was super challenging and even more beneficial.

My Spring Break Project

I recently spent my final Spring Break doing none of the crazy things you would expect from a college senior; I spent it building a website.

Over the last few months, I’ve developed a basic understanding of several programming languages, so I knew it was possible. I spent hours on everything from picking a starting point in WordPress and URL to designing a logo and finding data throughout the week. By the end of the break, I had a website that would make any ‘form follows function’ advocate proud.

After a few small tweaks, it was launch day. I reached out to several tech writers, but apparently journalists don’t like covering sites with a minimalist appearance and very basic functionality (who would have thought?).

I launched on my own by promoting it to every network I could think of, as well as submitting the link to Hacker News and Reddit. I didn’t get much action on Hacker News, but decent traffic on Reddit. At the end of the day where I had dreams of crashing servers from too many hits, I had around 500 visitors. I thought launch day was supposed to be a highlight, right?

So launch day wasn’t the huge success I hoped for and many would say my Spring Break would have been much better spent on a beach somewhere. However, even if I couldn’t drive one single visitor to StartupAlumn.us, it was worth it.

So what did my ‘wasted’ Spring Break teach me? Here are a few things I learned:

  • A “business guy” can work hard enough to overcome most technical deficiencies.
  • WordPress is one of the most beautiful, helpful tools to ever hit the web.
  • I learned to respect excellent designers; the difference between good design and great design is obvious.
  • The WordPress ‘White Screen of Death’ can make a grown man cry.
  • I can make PHP and CSS do about anything with enough work.
  • You should be embarrassed by your first release, or else you waited too long to launch (Reid Hoffman was right again).

More importantly than any skills, I learned that success never lies in uniques, shares, or articles produced, but the satisfaction in knowing I finished what I started. If nothing else, I hope this challenges you to stop talking about cool ideas and start building. There are very few guarantees when it comes to startups and side projects, but I can guarantee you will always be disappointed in the product never started.

Welcome!

My name is Cory Mikell and I’m an economics and business guy turned entrepreneur. I’m passionate about disruptive technologies and their impact on the world.

My writings on corymikell.com will cover my array of interests – from apps and product design to business strategy and growth models. This blog is my attempt to merge many random thoughts and hopefully learn a lot along the way.

Connect with me:

I would love the chance to connect with you. The easiest way to reach me is on Twitter or by shooting me an email.