Evan Williams’s Advice to Start-Ups: Don’t Be Too Data-Driven
Speaking to a start-up audience earlier this week, longtime entrepreneur Evan Williams said he had some advice for the young’uns.
Williams, who founded Blogger and Twitter, and is currently working on a new publishing platform called Medium, said he had been disappointed to see some of the companies that he’d invested in “pivot too early” rather than sticking with what they set out to do.
Projects that are worthwhile often don’t work right away, Williams noted in a conversation at Message Bus’ Serendipity Series. He urged start-ups to be willing to “fight the dragons.”
“I see this mentality that I think is common, especially in Silicon Valley with engineer-driven start-ups who think they can test their way to success. They don’t acknowledge the dip. And with really hard problems, you don’t see market success right away. You have to be willing to go through the dark forest and believe that there’s something down there worth fighting the dragons for, because if you don’t, you’ll never do anything good. I think it’s kind of problematic how data-driven some companies are today, as crazy as that sounds.”
It’s true that it’s increasingly possible for young tech companies to measure themselves. With tools like Mixpanel, Chartbeat and Optimizely, you can know not only how many people visit your site or download your app, but how likely people who signed up on a particular day are to come back, or what pages people are visiting at any particular moment. You can endlessly test which button should go where, and what color it should be.
In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing, because it moves people away from so-called “bullshit metrics” that only really help with bragging rights and toward objectives that will help their businesses be more purposeful.
But all that capacity to instrument and analyze and optimize can be overused. If the possible outcomes are set before the experiment begins, there’s probably not much room for creativity.
Or, as Williams noted, the data can make it look like something’s not worth doing, even when it is.
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Dm_Cherry)