On Features, Experiences, and Love

Consumer web services rarely win on features.  In fact, it hardly even makes sense to think about them in that way.

Did any of Facebook's 500 million users do a side by side feature comparison of Facebook and MySpace to decide where they were going to spend their social time online?  I doubt it.

Yet, the product that is Facebook is an amalgamation of a set of feature implementations that clearly amounted to more than the sum of its parts.   That's what we call experience.  

This week, I heard a lot of chatter in the tech scene about comparisons of features between GroupMe and other fast follower products that came out after its launch.  Whenever something gains a lot of traction early on, and investor attention, you're bound to see a lot of me-too's.  It happens everytime, and there will certainly be more in GroupMe's case.

What drives success in these types of companies is a dedication and a passion for creating the best experience--and that's something that comes from love.  When MediaBistro said that GroupMe had "discipline and experience" while others "had the love", I found it to be a pretty ridiculous assertion that they didn't have love.  

Let me tell you about love--the love that Steve and Jared have for connecting the people close to them that comes from their own personal experiences.  The whole idea for GroupMe came from Jared's girlfriend and her attempt to get out of reply all's on e-mail with her closest friends and into a more efficient and easy way to stay in touch.  I think we've all faced that.  This is the same girl that came up to me at a Ron Conway event and threw her arms around me with the biggest hug in the history of startups--because she knew how passionate Jared and Steve were about this company and appreciated the help that First Round and other investors were given these two really important people in her life.

GroupMe was born out of a real life experience and an attempt to solve a real personal problem that lots of people have.  This is not some hacked together idea to jump into a space that seemed hot with some artificially conceived feature differentiation seemingly without real use cases.  The media is making it seem like they have a local peer--and that comparison works well for competitive companies without nearly the traction that they do.  It's the best press any of these followers ever had--not nearly as good as the kind of stories that portray GroupMe as a potentially huge mainstream product.

You want to know about love?  Did anyone happen to read the private transcript that Steve posted at the New York Tech Meetup demo?  The one of his family in a group chat during a time that his father was in the hospital with a serious medical condition?  He showed 850 strangers the emotional recaps of family members alerting each other in real time to when tubes came out of noses, when spirits were up and down, and coordination around when someone could go see him at specific times.  That's what they built their platform for--to connect the people you care about in a way not handled well by e-mail or Twitter.  These aren't experiences you want to end after three hours.  

When I read that, I could plainly see that what they had there was way more than a feature differentiation.  That's an experience that was striking a cord with tens of thousands of people--doubling every couple of weeks, resulting in a quarter of a million text messages being sent out a day.  

Enterprise sales is driven by features.  Trust me, this startup runs on love and real passion for what they're doing--and on that level, they don't have any rivals.