Thursday, February 28, 2008

secrets and lies

One the unexpected bits of feedback from the MetaverseU conference was that a lot of people are convinced that I'm already off working on the next big thing but that I'm just keeping it secret and not telling anyone. Are you kidding me? Let me be clear, when I start working on something I will be talking about it here. Obviously, if I’m working for someone else and they’d prefer secrecy, that’s their choice, but if it is my project, I’ll be yammering on about it.

Being a stealthy startup is tempting, sure, but the awful reality of any startup – much like any game idea – is that if you’ve thought of it, there are two other teams somewhere working on the same project. If your idea or business is only going to succeed because nobody thinks to compete with it, you’d best spend some time coming up with new ideas.

More importantly, you should be thankful other companies are out there evangelizing and experimenting. It is bloody difficult to build a new sector or industry alone, so competitors help raise awareness and attract customers. You also never have the time or resources to try everything you’d like to, so the natural divergence between competing products is free testing.

I think this was one of the most important decisions of early Linden culture and kudos to Philip for introducing it and then supporting it when the rest of us ran with it. It may seem slightly counterintuitive, but once you noodle on it a bit, being open is a tremendously positive and competitive move. It forces your ideas to survive far broader scrutiny, makes it easier to hire, and lets your early employees do what they want to be doing anyway: brag about their cool, new company.

It’s similar to considering how to talk about competitors. Sure, having enemies can be motivational and useful when you are getting started, but you and your competitors are collaboratively shaping the landscape for your new companies. Spending time publicly bashing them makes you look like an ass and hurts your ability to work together down the road. It is rare for any sector to be winner-take-all – even eBay has competitors – and multiple, high-quality products in a space can help ensure the overall business grows far quicker than any one company could on its own.

So, for right now, I’m teaching, consulting, and speaking. When I decide on what’s next, you’ll be the first to know.

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