Why Any Serious Internet Entrepreneur Is On Quora

In the world of entrepreneurship one of the most important forms of currency is information. If you aren't on Quora, you probably don't have that currency.

In the world of entrepreneurship one of the most important forms of currency is information. If you aren’t on Quora, you probably don’t have that currency.

Listening To Customers

iterateOne of the hottest topics in Silicon Valley nowadays is the “Lean Startup Model”, a model in which quick iterations are superior to theoretically long, drawn out releases which have a significant potential of failure. The position of Lean Startup Model evangelists is a legitimate one: if you don’t listen to your customers then you are pretty much destined to fail because customers tell you what they want. To many of those individuals I would suggest that their single landing page site which is used to test an idea is often times completely misleading. One case and point comes from a story told on Quora by Michael Flaxman in response to the question “What is the best way to test an internet startup idea?”:

Unfortunately, the most reliable way to find out is to build the minimum viable product and see how people respond to it.

The idea that you can scientifically determine whether or not a startup will work is a nice thought, but I think it’s unrealistic. If there were reliable tests you could take before launching a startup, wouldn’t startups fail at an exceptionally low rate?

I have a developer friend who wanted to build a cheaper email marketing software, but he didn’t want to make the investment in building a product only to find that it couldn’t make money. So, he found some of his competitors’ clients and asked them if they’d switch. When that seemed promising he setup a landing page that looked like it was for real email marketing software, only the software wasn’t yet built. He then bought traffic and carefully measured how expensive it was to get a “signup” on his landing page. Looking good so far. 6 months of building a clone product and he was ready to get it to some of those trial users.

Unfortunately, his users had lots of reasons why they now wouldn’t actually leave their current SaaS product and switch to his cheaper one. 6 more months of fixing bugs and adding features — including one that let you 1-click copy your account from one of his major competitors into his software — and the project had flopped. It turns out getting people to say yes to “are you interested in a better/cheaper product?” is much easier than getting them to actually make the change (and pay money for it).

Ouch! Take that lean startup people! Listening to the customer is definitely important to some extent, however I would suggest that customers don’t know what they want. That doesn’t mean that all hope should be lost though. That’s because there’s a much better indicator of what to build: the market.

Listening To The Market

While the customer doesn’t necessarily know what they want, the market is a very effective gauge of it. Successful companies are those who build products that resonate with their customers. Those customers in turn tell others about the product and eventually the product reaches a significant number of customers. So how on earth do you monitor the market? Read the news, extensively research the market, and most importantly (if you are in the Internet industry): read Quora! I have a quick story to illustrate the point of this.

I have an entrepreneur friend who is constantly asking me for advice and asking for help on raising funding. My single greatest complaint isn’t about his business (e.g. that it’s a bad idea … which it isn’t), but instead that he has no idea who the other players are in the market. How can you truly become a seriously player in a market that you are completely oblivious to? The answer: you can’t. There are tons of companies who are out there doing the research for you to find out what the market wants.

Unless you are a first mover, which is most often not the case, there is no excuse for not knowing who’s in your market, what they’re doing, and what works for them and what isn’t working. The bottom line: if entrepreneurship were a chess game, no chess player makes their moves without taking into consideration the other player’s moves. So pay attention to the market!

Quora As A Place To Gain Insight

While Quora is by no means the beat of the marketplace, there is plenty of insight to be gleaned from people who post on the site. There are great responses posted about many of the toughest challenges facing entrepreneurs. Clearly, if you spend too much time on the site you are doing yourself a disservice. Additionally, not all players in the marketplace are exactly transparent about their intentions, so the deepest insight comes from those who are sharing the moves they made weeks, months, or most often, years ago.

These anecdotes can prove to be extremely valuable. Business anecdotes are one of the reasons that incubators like YCombinator have become so successful. Aside from providing money, they provide unfiltered insight from business leaders in the community. While much of the information on Quora is clearly filtered (often times so much that it’s clear the person responding has intentionally left out chunks of a story), there are plenty of great insights to be gleaned from reading the site. Do you agree that Quora has become a critical resource for any serious internet entrepreneur? Do you use the site regularly?