You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new. - Steve Jobs

I was at a networking event out here in the Valley a few weeks ago where a bunch of companies went up on stage and presented their companies to the audience. I'm fairly certain that at least one of them might have been interesting, but to tell you the truth, I don't really know because I didn't really pay attention to any of them.

I already knew about the ones that mattered and a quick glance at the program showed me that the others weren't worth listening to because they were me too clones of other start-ups.

After the presentations were over, a friend asked me what I though of them, to which I replied, "Don't know, didn't pay attention" and he responded, "yeah, but are you actively a hater like me yet?"

I think that I got his point, and that is that there are times lately where I just want to slap people when they tell me what their company is doing.

I know that innovating is one of the hardest things in the world to do, but lately, I've been disappointed in 99% of what I see. As far as I can tell, there seem to be two main reasons for this:

  1. The first reason is because of what I call the "me too" start-up. For example, when I first moved to SF, Flickr was the big thing out here, so for a few months everyone seemed to have a crap photo sharing site. Then this changed to Youtube/crap video sites, Facebook Platform/crap widget sites, and on and on. Some degree of competition is a good thing, but it's all a little much. If you have a substantial improvement to an existing product then, by all means, go for it. However, if you're just doing a feature for feature copy of a competitor's website then, please, invest those resources in doing something else. Or at least don't try to pitch it to me as something new and exciting.

  2. The second reason, and the one that bothers me more, is the "aim high, fall fast" start-up. This is the start-up that has lofty goals, and falls into the trap of selling them out to meet some sort of smaller and less interesting short term target. This is all too common (hell, I did it at my last start-up), and I think that a big part of it comes from the fact that it's so cheap to start a company now that sometime it's easy to forget just how hard you really have to work to make something great. These are the companies that VCs need to fund at their "aim high" stage to keep them from plummeting. Sure, they might have an idea that's way off in left field, but companies like that are usually the ones that grow into something huge and interesting.

So, I guess that I'm asking everyone out there for one thing, and that is to think bigger than we are right now. Think outside the box, don't water it down in the early stages or once a little revenue starts to trickle in the door.

When I run into you at a networking event, make me say "damn, that's a crazy idea, but it just might work" and when I run into you 6 months later don't make me shake my head at you because you've turned it into a clone of another idea.

Perhaps if we all start using our heads, the innovation will start flowing freely once again.