April 11, 2012
I could build Instagram in a week

could build Instagram in a week. How many times have you heard someone
say "I could build [insert hot startup name here] in a week"? I hear it
all the time. But, I have yet to see one of these delusional wizards
actually do it. They are obviously too busy inventing the next big
thing. They fail to realize that building a successful consumer web or
mobile product takes more than great technology. A lot more.

Success looks easy from a distance. Technology seems
simple if the design is great. Attracting great founders and early
employees just means rounding up some of your friends. Raising money is
always easy, right? Getting great press stories just takes a few emails.
Attracting influential users just sort of happens. Viral growth is a
simple formula. Solving a problem that millions of people care about is
just luck. Going public or getting acquired is automatic. There are
hundreds of critical decisions along the way. None of them are easy.

From a technical point of view there isn't much
difference between Instagram, Path, Oink, Hipster, or a bunch of
other companies that all do essentially the same things. Mobile,
social, photo apps that include comments and some type of friend/follow
model. Why is one worth $1B and another shut down with no value? It
isn't about the technology or how long it took to build.

First Mover Advantage is real. The first product on the market has a
big advantage...if the product actually works. People get used to the
product, get to like the user experience, and develop a user community
culture. Users invite their friends and the viral growth cycle starts.
Once the user community starts to grow virally they are not likely to
switch to another product...even if it is better. A competing product
with a few new features, or something that is faster or cheaper, isn't
likely to steal away many users.

Design and user experience matters, especially with consumer
products. Timing and luck play a big part in success. Technology can be
replicated, timing and luck can't.

Facebook definitely has the engineering talents to build a mobile product with features similar to Instagram. But it wouldn't be Instagram.
It would be an obscure feature buried somewhere inside the Facebook app
that would only work within Facebook. Instagram is magical because it
does one thing really well. It stands alone, and is quick and easy to
use. It isn't bogged down with the overhead of a much larger app or
service. Instagram photos can be shared across lots of different social
services. If Facebook engineers designed a mobile photo sharing app
would it work like this? No.

Mobile is the future, and photos are core to Facebook. Instagram does
both better than Facebook. Being the leader in two growing trends is
critical to Facebook. That is why Instagram is worth more than $1B to

Google Video is another example. Google already had a video
hosting/sharing service called Google Video...but it wasn't YouTube.
Even though the features were similar, the user experience, and more
importantly, the user community, were very different. The technical
features could be replicated, the brand and user community could not.

Web video, and search for that video, is a huge trend. YouTube was
the clear leader. Whoever owned YouTube would instantly become the
leader. That was worth $1.6B to Google...even though they already had
comparable features in Google Video.

Next time some wizard tells you they could build XYZ hot startup in a
week, just smile and say "You probably could build the features...but
you couldn't build the user community or the company. That is where the
value is."

Don Dodge
is a Developer Advocate at Google.  You can find this
post as well as additional content on his blog called: Don Dodge on The Next
Big Thing
.  You can also follow Don (@dondodge) on Twitter by clicking here or on Google+ by clicking here.