Many startups keep themselves going with one big idea in mind—money! They push themselves because they see that big investment or payday on the horizon. They ask themselves from the very start, how are we going to monetize this? Not Alon Nir. Back in July 2009 Alon launched Tweet Your Prayers @TheKotel, a Twitter account that lets you “Tweet Your Prayers.” Send a prayer and @TheKotel (aka Alon and a some very kind volunteers) will print it out, roll it up and stick it in the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Since 2009 he’s launched a website and an iPhone app and to this day he hasn’t monetized and (get this!) he doesn’t plan to (no, it’s not his only job and yes, he does accept donations both via his website and iPhone app). Alon considers his service a sort of “anti-startup” and he gave a great presentation about it earlier this month at Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference in Tel Aviv, which I attended. I thought that Alon’s ‘5 Principles Of The Anti-Startup’ were amusing, but also inspiring for others who are trying to make a difference. So here they are, without further ado!
1. Go To Market Without A Product
Alon started @TheKotel with nothing more than an idea—no website, no product, no app—just the notion that it could be cool to make the Western Wall accessible to everyone and so he launched the Twitter account and just went with it. Alon says, “It’s really hard to come up with an original idea these days. If you don’t put your idea out there someone else will, so just run with it. You never know what will stick.”
Far too many startups out there work for months and even years on perfecting their product – working out all the bugs, creating a pristine design. The problem is, by the time they actually launch somebody else has already come up with the same idea or, worse yet, they never actually launch because they keep finding more and more things that they need to work on before their product is “ready.”
Alon is right. In this day and age everyone is trying to create something creative and original, but if you don’t get your idea out there someone else might beat you to the punch. So just put something out there!
2. Users Don’t Necessarily Have To Use Your Product
Many startups are concerned with how many customers are using their product, how often they are using it and how much time they are spending using it. Of course, if your goal is to make the big bucks then getting customers to actually use your product is important. However, if your goal is to make a difference, effect change or spread the word about a cause without charging for your service then, in truth, just the fact that your product is available may be enough, whether or not all your users are actually using it.
Take Alon, for instance. He points out that many users download the app or follow @TheKotel and don’t send prayers. Many of these users have told him that, “just knowing that they have the option to send a prayer is enough.” The idea that the service is available if they need it gives them a sense of security. And we can’t forget that Alon is offering this service for free so it actually cuts down on his workload if people don’t actually use the service (though he’s more than happy to help out when they do!).
3. Users Don’t Necessarily Have To Use Your Product
This goes along with the previous point. If your goal is to effect change and help people, rather than make money, then by all means outsource to competitors! Since Alon launched @TheKotel a number of copycat services have popped up. When your goal isn’t to make money there’s a lot less reason to be wary of competitors. There are a huge number of people that want to have prayers put in the Western Wall and Alon is happy to let his competitors help lighten the workload.
4. Don’t Monetize
Admittedly, this rule is one that 99.9% of startups will break at some point (and they should). But that’s why it’s called an “anti-startup” rule! However, in all seriousness, far too many startups consider monetizing as one of the first things they need to focus on. Focus on your product, on getting your brand name out and building your customer base first. This is where the real key to your success lies. Then, once you’ve taken care of those things you can start adding premium services, charging for your product, selling advertising, or doing what you have to do to start bringing in the money (if making money is one of your ultimate goals). Remember that without your product and costumers you’ve got nothing to monetize.
5. Create Meaning And Effect Change!
Alon finishes up his 5 principles of the anti-startup on a more serious note with create meaning and effect change. “It’s true for startups and anti-startups alike,” he told me. “When people create a product, a service, or even just write a blog, the goal in mind is almost always to reach as many people as possible—get as many registered users, get the biggest market share. What is often overlooked is that this user base is comprised of a lot of individuals—people with feelings, desires and needs. Sure, they want a great product or service, but you can provide them with something extra.
“Make them a part of something bigger. When they let you into their computer you have an ‘in’ into their lives. I never thought Tweet Your Prayers @TheKotel would affect people the way it does. I never thought there would be a ‘pay-it-forward’ effect, but guess what? People saw what I do with @TheKotel as more than just a service that takes prayers from Point A to Point B. They discovered meaning behind what I do and they responded to that.”
Do you see any ways that you could apply Alon’s principles of the anti-startup to what you do? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times. Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.