Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Starting Up: Skate to Where the Puck Is

cute-fightWe’re working feverishly on Cute-Fight right now, so I’m thinking about startups. This is one of those thoughts.

There’s an old quote from Wayne Gretzky: “Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” This has been widely adopted in startup circles to describe thinking ahead. The idea being, skating to where the puck’s going is good, and skating to where it’s been is bad.

The problem with this conventional wisdom is that Wayne Gretzky never launched a website. People are more difficult to predict than a hockey puck, especially in groups online. I’ve been a part of many startups since 1995 that have tried to skate to where the puck was going, only to wind up in the right place too soon, dead before any puck arrived; or wind up in the wrong place entirely, wondering where everybody went. Like I said, startups are all about timing.

When it comes to community-based websites, I prefer to find places where people already congregate and build a playground there. People like personal stories? Fray. People tend to complain online? Kvetch. People show off their best photos? JPG Magazine.

And those are just the ones I started. Blogger* may have created blogging, but it was just a tool to do something people were already doing. Blogger just made it easier and more fun. Same goes for Twitter, which is just a much easier, much more fun way to blog. People forget that there were things called “facebooks” before Facebook – they were just on paper.

So Cute-Fight came from this observation: People with pets like to share photos of them. Everybody likes to see photos of cute pets. Let’s build a playground around that. We’re still in private alpha, but so far the feedback has been amazing. (I can’t wait to show it to you. Sign up if you haven’t already!)

The best part about skating to where the puck is that, when it works, your community will tell you where they’re going. You don’t have to guess. You’re building something together.

* I was Blogger’s Creative Director in 1999.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.