Earlier in the week I wrote about the feeling you get when it all comes together:
- “My favorite moment in the life span of a startup is when the vision of the team, the development of the product, and the public’s understanding of the product start to align.”
Every startup tells a story, and entrepreneurial synchronicity occurs when the story you’ve been telling starts to align itself with the actual product *and* people’s understanding of the product. In other words, reality sets in.
Over the last week or so the startup synchronicity at Mahalo hit a new peak and it was, and I’ll apologize for using a corny word up front, magical. We had record traffic, technological breakthroughs, new promising hires, a developer retreat (including the “Mahalo wives club”), great corporate development meetings, and a flurry of great feedback from bloggers and the press. It was one of those weeks, as opposed to one of those weeks.
Synchronicity Part One
On Monday TechRepublic wrote a story entitled “Sanity check: Can Mahalo save us from Google, Digg, and Wikipedia?” In the story the journalist, Jason Hiner, took the time to really use and understand our product. He pointed out all the salient issues, answered the burning questions, and come to the same conclusions we have over the past eight months since launch: social search has great potential.
In fact, the arguments he makes in his columns were the exact arguments I had with investors a year ago when I was raising the first round of financing. They are the arguments I have to this day with people–synchronicity!
He pointed out the problem:
- “when you need to do research and information gathering for tech topics, the quality of Google search results has always been a gamble. Sometimes you quickly find useful stuff, while many other times you have to flip through multiple pages of results to find only mildly-helpful stuff. Plus, Google’s results are arguably getting less effective with time. The USC Center for the Digital Future found that only 52% of users trusted the information from search engines in 2007, down from 62% in 2006. For 2007, 49% of users trusted Google’s results.
He describes the Mahalo page vs. Wikipedia and Google and then points out the core issue: trust.
- “Ultimately, this whole issue comes down to trust and whether you trust algorithms, editors, or the masses. I trust algorithms for finding needles in haystacks. I trust the masses to contribute and tweak content. And I trust editors to organize, point out opportunities, and manage quality control. That’s the formula that Mahalo appears to have adopted, and it has already given the product a leg up on Google and Wikipedia for some search terms.”
Synchronicity Part Two
Three days after the TechRepublic story came our Dow Jones’ MarketWatch did a story entitled “New Search Engines To Break The Google Habit.” IN the story Scott Austin’s experience aligns with Jason Hiner of TechRepblic:
Scott states the problem like Jason:
- lately I’m not as googly-eyed about Google’s algorithmic-powered engine. Yes, in 0.17 seconds Google can give me 1.7 million Web pages that mention “cat” and “neuter,” but isn’t that just showing off? Worse, it’s laborious to sift through the results that aren’t very organized. I rarely venture past the first ten results, and many of those listings are often stories from five years ago or links to sites that are placeholders for advertisements. I suspect I’m not alone.
Scott then gives his feedback and mentions the last of synchronicity by some:
- Take Mahalo Inc. It’s among the human-powered search engines, and has one of the best shots at succeeding… A lot of people have laughed at Mahalo’s model. It naturally can’t grow very quickly compared with the billions of pages indexed by Google. But Mahalo, which has already banked about 30,000 pages covering roughly 500, 000 search terms since April 2007, is smartly banking on users to constantly update results or recommend links
Synchronicity Part Three
Last night I came home from partner yoga and found this amazing cherry for a really sweet week: “Mahalo Is Fantastic” by J. Botter.
Mr. Botter admits that there was no synchronicity when he first learned of Mahalo (he would be one of the folks mentioned in the MarketWatch story):
- “When Jason Calacanis dropped Mahalo on the world last year, I was skeptical. After all, why would I use something other than Google when Google seems to give me the results I want each and every time I use it? I checked it out a few times and it never really clicked with me; I’ve used it sparingly since then. I love the idea of a human edited search engine, where every result is crafted by someone with a real brain and not an algorithm, but I also love the pure, raw power of Google and the ability it gives me to really dig deep into a search term and find what I’m looking for.
… but Mr. Botter has had an epiphany:
- Today, however, I realized why Mahalo is so fantastic. It’s not targeted at people like me. It’s not aimed at tech geeks or people who know how to use search engines in advanced ways. Mahalo is for people like my grandmother, who gets confused on page one of Google’s results and ends up closing the browser in frustration after not finding what she was originally looking for. I introduced her to Mahalo, and she can’t stop gushing about it, because it’s SIMPLE and 99% of the time gives her exactly what she’s looking for. She doesn’t need the power of Google’s index – she just needs the best information given to her in the easiest manner possible, and Mahalo does that.
And that epiphany threads the needle with product adoption:
- In fact, she loves Mahalo so much that she’s set it as her start page after years of having AOL.com as her home page. It’s the first place she visits every morning and she says she probably looks at it 20 times a day….. She’s gotten 3 of her friends hooked on Mahalo as well.
When you’re an entrepreneur you’re a story teller.* You have a vision for how the world should be and you tell that story to anyone who will listen: investors, team members, users, analytics, early adopters, clients, partners, and the press.
As time goes on the story of how things could be is replaced by your actually execution. That’s when you stop telling the story of what could be, and start to tell the story of what is actually happening. Those partners we talked about are also story tellers. Your VCs are telling their limited partners (their investors) your story, and both of those parties are telling that story to the press and analysts. Those public runs into your product and they are start telling your story to their friends (i.e. Mr. Botter’s grandmother, who I really want to send a Mahalo beach towel to!**).
You’re not on telling your story, you’re telling people how to tell your story.
Different people will respond differently to your story at different times. If you remember my post titled “How to identify and deal with the slow masses, knowledgeable skeptics, and savvy dreamers,” you’ll recall some of the architypes you’ll face.
An important thing to note is that the bigger your vision, the further out it spans, the longer it will take to tell the story. However, some of the greatest stories ever told take time to tell. Weaving your yarn is going to take time, and some folks might even fall asleep while you’re doing it (true story: one of the most powerful VCs*** in the world started falling asleep when I pitched him on Mahalo!). Don’t worry about it, they’ll catch up to the story in act two or three. 🙂
* I’ve dressed up this post with images from an advertisement from 1878 for PT Barnum‘s “The Greatest Show on Earth.” You don’t have to be over the top like P.T. when presenting your story, but truth be told the folks who parade the most ponies tend to win the show.
** Seriously, send me grandma’s address so I can send he a Mahalo pack with a mug, hat, and beach towel! jason at mahalo.com!
** No, I’m not going to say which world-famous VC nodded off during my second pitch meeting for Mahalo, but I will tell you that this story is not even close to the most disrespectfully I’ve ever been treated by a VC. Yes, it is possible to do something more offensive than falling asleep during a 20-minute meeting where an entrepreneur puts his vision out there (if you can imagine that!).