Back at the nextNY October Community Conversation, David Kidder talked about the differences between being a satellite company and a planet company. We use the barnacle and the boat analogy, but the point is the same – there are companies that stand alone and have gravity, and there are those that exist by attaching themselves to other companies that have that gravity.
Obviously, it takes a lot longer to build your own boat than it does to attach yourself to someone else’s. As a result, the boat is ultimately worth more and more resilient – something that, as David stressed, is increasingly important in this kind of economic environment.
In other words, building on the Facebook platform is a great way to gain “easy” access to a lot of users and traffic, but it’s important to remember that ultimately Facebook “owns” those users. If Facebook blocks your application or launches another redesign which further downplays your visibility, will your business survive? Can your business stand alone outside of the traffic you take for granted?
The common element between Facebook and other “planets” like Google and Microsoft is that they’re building core value that stands alone and, where applicable, creating an ecosystem around that. Facebook has this influence because of the number of users it has, not technology – as it demonstrated by recently open-sourcing much of their platform.
For those of us trying to build new, sustainable businesses, I think it comes down to finding the right balance between being a boat and being a barnacle. If you focus solely on the long-term value, you will struggle with traction and attracting users. If you focus on solely on leveraging users that exist on other platforms without "converting" them along the way, you are at the mercy of the other boards.
With Notches, we're trying to build a boat - something unique that has built-in barriers to entry, is not easily duplicated, and an ecosystem that generates that gravity. At the same time, we recognize that we’re not going to build the boat overnight and the only way we can gain the traction to get to the point where we have gravity is by having a presence on the sites that do have a lot of users and traction today.