There has been a lot of news of folks claiming to have come up with the idea of Facebook before the Facebook folks did. And all I could think of was Jon Lovitz’s Pathological Liar character from SNL. First there was the lawsuit from the ConnectU guys, then last week another contender for the ‘heh facebook was my idea’ title popped up. Although in fairness to the latest contender – aaron greenspan – he’s using his claim only as a clever ploy to get press and blog coverage (and it worked like a charm – as I make the mental note for future pr efforts I’ll likely be responsible for in the future). Anyway, I digress.
My point in reading about the posts in my normal valleywag loving way, is that it doesn’t matter who came up with the idea for Facebook first. At it’s core, it’s not that unique. Seriously how unique is a social network? What are there 5,000 different social networks littering the landscape these days? Seriously how many social networks can hit swinging a dead cat around the latest web 2.0 conference? Who invented the first social network – was it myspace? friendster? heck what about seattle’s own classmates.com? Good core business ideas are usually so obvious that lots of people think of them.
Heck – I could make a claim to have come up with the idea for YouTube first. I did co-found a company called SimplyTV with the idea of putting independently produced video online and on-demand way back in 1997 – heck the Internet as we know it was barely alive back then. Even if that wasn’t enough – I did it again at Loudeye when we created a service called MyHomeMovie.net back in 1999-2000. And the point of MyHomeMovie.net was for users to submit their homemade videos to our website for public playback and sharing. Wait that sounds exactly what the YouTube guys claim inspired them to start YouTube! Those bastards stole my idea – I better sue! Am I really claiming credit for YouTube? No. I am not that delusional (oh wait I need to someday so I can get my next startup some pub by making that claim).
And I’ve got more examples of other startups from my own ideas (for instance in early 2003 I wrote a business plan called Project Navigator for an open source wifi network that today looks a lot like FoN – those guys out of spain – even pitching it to some folks in town before getting advice that wifi was likely a couple of years out from being a mass market deal) to many others that look exactly like successful companies today.
So why doesn’t it matter that I or dozens of others came up with an idea before someone else who was successful with it? Because in startups and businesses – it’s not the idea that matters – it is the timing and execution that matters. Great execution and good timing will still be bad and likely result in a place on TechCrunch’s Deadpool list (a theme blogged about before here). But great execution and good timing usually mean success. And in this case the Facebook team nailed it. Yes execution means a lot of unique ideas in terms of expressing the idea into a tangible reality but the core idea was not unique. Why has Facebook been successful – clean layout, the news feed, more recently the platform and easy ways to add friends are all obvious and oft-mentioned. Was Facebook the first social network? Nope. Is it a raging homerun anyway? Absolutely. Does Facebook deserve it’s success? Yeppers.
Why was YouTube successful where I and my colleagues weren’t? Super simple method of uploading video and early adoption of flash video come to mind. Would a YouTube have eventually occured if YouTube hadn’t come along? Most likely.
It would be great to be remembered in the lore of where an idea originated or product but if I am not the one or part of the team that executed the idea to success then I and others don’t deserve to be remembered in all truth other then as an obscure footnote to history – quick inside baseball note (feel to skip ahead) this is also a throw in to you mcclure – remember my footnote when you’re current project is a huge success
So the next time person X or person Y claims to have come up with the idea for something – a better way to look at the claim might be through the lens of our friend the Pathological Liar – “Yeah I came up with the idea for X, yeah that’s the ticket.”