Founders at Work

by francine Hardaway on March 21, 2007

I am in the middle (well, I lied, and I’m about a third of the way through) of “Founders at Work,” a series of interviews with star-quality founders (Wozniak, et al) about their early days. So far, it’s the most fascinating entrepreneurship book I’ve ever read, simply because it underscores the chance and randomness of most startups.

So far in this book, every entrepreneur has started out trying to solve one problem, and become famous for solving another. Often the problems are not even related, but they grow out of the issues arising from the first company. Hotmail, for example, was a fluke. Its founders were developing a web-based database, and were just trying to access their personal email accounts from work so they could talk to each other during the workday. That small problem led them to the concept and development of web-based email (the first product of its kind) and caused them to be acquired for $500m by Microsoft after twenty months. And was it because web-based email was seen as a need? NO. It was because each email they sent out had a Hotmail sign up link on the bottom.

And Paypal? It went viral because its founders enabled people to send money from a Paypal account, and made the receiver open an account to access the money. It was designed to be viral.

Design everything to be viral. If it isn’t, it will never cross the chasm.

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