I started my first company in 2000 at the end of the dot com bubble. After five years of instant riches, the stock market had just blown up, companies became worthless overnight, and my friends from school were out of jobs they had accepted weeks before.
It was a dark time here in Silicon Valley.
I was fortunate to have great investors from whom we had raised money right before the dot com crash, and my first startup survived to fight another day (and we ultimately sold it). It was an extremely difficult, but extraordinarily creative period, from which emerged Google, Amazon, a reborn Apple, and PayPal, among many other successes.
I started my second company in 2004 at the beginning of the “Web 2.0” era and the early days of social media. Coming out of what had felt like the Dark Ages of Technology Entrepreneurship, a small but ambitious group of old and new friends were intrigued by the earliest social networks, the many photo sharing websites, and the rapid expansion of an open, connected, social web. From 2006 to 2010, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram all emerged out of nowhere to take over the world.
These products took advantage of viral growth –– or the “self-replicating” process where people invited their friends and family to connect on a new service for free –– which was not only new and fascinating, but meant the right product could take off overnight without that service having to spend a cent. I know because it happened to me with my own company, Ning. Three years and nearly 100 million people later, I had a front row seat to translating viral growth into a vibrant service that survives to this day (despite being ignored for five years).
Our Brave New World
Fast forward to 2017 and the world is a very different place –– especially for aspiring entrepreneurs and digital small business owners.
Viral growth is dead. Five massive monopolies dominate our daily lives. Attention span is measured in 1.7 second units in a newsfeed where you will most likely find this post. Making a memorable first impression is harder than it’s been at any time in history. People are comfortable with the status quo (especially when the products we use every day are expressly designed to be addictive), and a small vocal minority don’t want to add anything new to their already overburdened daily lives.
The pressure to make the status quo work –– even when there are 10x better alternatives out there –– has never been harsher. People are exhausted and you’ve got to have something pretty spectacular to make an immediate impression. Even then, they may not try it…on the principle of not wanting to try something new.
It’s never been harder to be an entrepreneur. You want to build a better world for the people you serve, and even when you have an amazing product they will love, getting them to try it for the first time is not always easy.
Yet, it’s exactly what the most successful entrepreneurs of the next decade are doing RIGHT NOW.
Where Network Effects is King…
See, these entrepreneurs, creators, bloggers, brand builders, marketers, and business people understand that success in the next decade is being defined by two things:
How well you build network effects into your idea. Network effects is the phenomenon where a product gets more valuable the more people who use it. It’s the defining characteristic of today’s dominant, global companies –– Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, WeChat, and AirBNB. Even if you are looking to start a small business, network effects are going to mean the difference between hitting escape velocity and having a life, or slaving away day and night trying to get your new business off the ground.
How tenacious and creative you are about growth. The easy days of virality are over. They are locked away behind the walled gardens of Facebook and LinkedIn (demonstrated in no small part, Dear Comrades, by my choosing to write this today from my LinkedIn account and not my own blog).
While there are amazing software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies such as WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, MailChimp, and now Shopify and Kajabi that empower motivated entrepreneurs and creators to launch new brands, stores, and courses every few minutes each day, the biggest and most important SaaS opportunity –– to use a service that delivers to you your own network effects brand and business –– is just now coming into its own.
While SaaS websites, blogs, stores, and classes are awesome, creating “network effects in a box” is a bit more sophisticated and a LOT more valuable. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg or Kevin Systrom. The benefits to you –– the digital creator of a network effects brand –– incorporate all the growth, engagement, and revenue opportunities of the above in one place, but with infrastructure where you can:
Create a more valuable resource for your members with less work than you’d put in on any other platform.
Instantly access 100% of the data and analytics surrounding your members and what they do, so you can create a better, more valuable experience for them.
Potentially dominate a category, grow faster, and move to adjacent categories quickly.
And now you can set up your own network effects “operating system” on your own web, iOS, and Android apps with the same simple steps you’ve used to launch a new blog or open a Shopify store.
When you decide you’re ready to create your own network effects brand and business, what’s not to love?
…And Creative Growth is Queen
The most successful entrepreneurs today are using off-the-shelf SaaS services because they know the real value they can add to any new network effects business isn’t in what software they build, but in the creativity and tenacity they bring to finding the tribe they are going to recruit to meet and build relationships with each other.
The value of a network effects brand is in the people who use it, and the flywheel starts with creators. By seeding your new network effects brand with your social following, you’ll see some hemming and hawing about trying something new, but the majority of your followers will LOVE you for choosing to offer them new and better ways to meet other members, share their experiences, stories, and ideas, and make more well-informed decisions about their practice, goals, condition, or business.
And unlike on a blog or with your own static website, with network effects, as more people join and start connecting with other members (especially when you show them the most relevant ones by location and interests), they will connect and contribute — generating new and interesting notifications. With more new and interesting notifications being created from a diverse set of other members doing cool things, more members make it a new habit. Then, as more members make it a new habit, more will share and invite other people –– adding gasoline to anything you can do yourself on your own.
Again, what’s not to love about network effects?
The Benefits of a Growing a Network Effects Brand Today
I promised to share with you all the reasons to start a business –– or a side hustle that could turn into something bigger –– despite it being harder today to be an entrepreneur, especially a digital one.
Here we go:
1. You’ll become a better communicator. You’ll seed your network effects brand with what you want to share with the world, recruiting members to contribute by building on your ideas with their own. By choosing to create a brand with network effects, your stories, opinions, and experiences will spark a rich thread of ongoing conversations, messaging, events, questions, and polls with other members. In my experience, this opportunity to listen and absorb other people’s contributions –– even the crazy ones –– has made me better at communicating my own ideas and perspectives.
2. You’ll become a more organized thinker. There’s a very well understood set of reasons why your blossoming network effects brand will attract your members –– it’s to meet people like them, to support, encourage, and learn from each other, and to make better decisions about the most important things in their life. One of the most fun puzzles of launching a new network effects brand is finding a name and mission that ties these motivations to what you want to bring into the world. When it works, it’s beautiful. And flexing this muscle will help you think about problems differently.
3. It’s less work than starting a blog or website…with much greater upside. A network effects brand means the simple interactions between people that make a brand stickier, more engaging, and, ultimately, more valuable will grow a new and even bigger audience with less work from you. Your members are your growth engine. They’re invested in sharing their own perspective, which drives them to share more on their social channels. With each new share by a member, you have an opportunity to reach a larger audience with less work than with any other alternative you directly benefit from creating.
4. You’ll meet amazing people. Meeting people who believe in your idea or want to be a member of your tribe is possibly the biggest rush out there. It’s the surest sign you’re making a small mark on the world around you. I promise you that with your own network effects business, you’ll not only grow a brand, but you’ll meet some truly amazing people along the way.
5. You’ll introduce amazing people to each other. This is where a network effects brand gets the most interesting. While the investment of time and sharing you’ll make on a blog or network effects brand is the same upfront, network effects are expressly designed for people to get value by meeting each other. It’s not about just publishing into a black hole, but rather hosting a party where people want to meet each other — not just listen to you. It’s truly the best.
6. You’ll inspire others. Once you kickstart your network effects (especially if you choose to go with a modern SaaS service and not build your own custom software or use something that was state of the art in 2000), you’ll have more time to be creative, tenacious, reach out to more people, and remember the reasons why you love this particular interest and set of people in the first place. With network effects, your members aren’t waiting for you to say something. This gives you more time and energy to find ways to spark inspiration — whether that’s through sharing your travel adventures, scaling your knowledge with an online course, or simply supporting others who share a common challenge or condition.
7. You’ll become an even better networker. Connecting with people — and introducing people to each other — is probably one of the most important professional skills of the 21st century. While not all of us are blessed with the ability to work a room, we *can* all take advantage of the way in which choosing to build a network effects brand instantly introduces the right people to each other by matching up those who care about the same things. I never imagined that I could meet — and learn from — so many fascinating and diverse people in one place. But now, I can easily reach out and message anyone I want to get to know better. It’s opened up a world of possibilities for me professionally, but even more so personally.
8. You’ll build influence. Creating a network effects brand is the fastest way to introduce yourself — and your unique perspective — to the world. Whether you have 50 devoted members or a community of 15,000 following your journey and reaping the benefits of being able to meet and interact with each other, you have instant access to a potential army you uniquely can rally. That’s powerful.
9. You’ll build confidence. As you become a better networker, recruiter, and influencer, it will be easy to see all the ways you can have a bigger impact on the world around you. Each new member, interaction, and connection builds on each other until you can confidently take on more and more that you want to accomplish in the world. When you choose to create a deep interest network over a blog, and then successfully build one, what can’t you accomplish? It’s the biggest confidence boost I’ve found for myself.
10. You can make some (or a lot of) money. Beyond all the good stuff that keeps your members coming back daily — great people to meet, message, and learn from — a network effects brand gives you the option to generate revenue, so you can spend more time on it. Think member subscriptions, event tickets, or even sponsorships. When you build something valuable people love, they’ll pay for it. The sky’s the limit.
11. You’ll create something bigger than yourself. As humans, we’re wired to want to belong to something greater than ourselves. Just look at cities or religions. Fast forward to 2017 and there’s something special that happens when you are a part of a network effects brand that is active and building something wonderful together on the web, on mobile, and in the real world. It’s why we’re here.
Go Ahead, Run an Experiment. What Do You Have to Lose?
Here’s what’s beautiful about this moment. Let’s not pretend that creating your own network effects brand is as easy as, say, sitting on your couch watching The Bachelorette or mindlessly skimming your newsfeed. Those are for sure easier. But they are about 0.00000000001% as rewarding.
Even by taking the quick and painless step of creating your own network effects brand for free (or visiting one that’s thriving to see how it’s done), you’ll see if those first 2 minutes turn into 15, or an hour. You’ll get to see up close and personal whether you have what it takes to start something new that brings together people who are waiting for you to take what’s been trapped on your blog, website, or Facebook Page and turn it into something so much more with powerful network effects.
Read more: LinkedIn