I’ve both given and received the feedback that a product or pitch isn’t “different enough”.
It’s challenging feedback to receive because it’s completely open ended. You doesn’t necessarily know what it would mean to be different, but you know it when you see it.
It can be very very subtle elements that make a product different. When someone first hears about Tumblr or Posterous, the response is probably something like “how is that really any different from WordPress or Blogger?”. But the minute you use the product, something clicks and you realise that you are dealing with something different.
Difference also has many imitators. Groupon’s unsubscribe page has a very different sort of “sorry to see you go” message (I think it reflects on the creativity of the team and culture of the company too). But even that concept has been ripped off (as well as many other elements of their business).
Another simple example is VC firm websites. First Round Capital was very different when they introduced a real-time feed as the core of their site. As for the imitators… it’s not bad to adopt best practices, it’s just not unique. Interestingly, amidst the many VC websites moving towards highlighting real-time streams and lots of multi-media, a16z was unveiled and is completely different.
The problem with difference is that’s it’s hard to manufacture. It must be authentic, or it’s just cheap. My partners and I have been thinking about how to position NextView differently. One friend calls us “sexy guys doing sexy deals.” And although that’s very flattering (or maybe not), I’m not sure that sentiment reflects our personalities.
So today, I’m thinking about a story I read in the book “Different” written by one of the more popular profs at HBS. In this vignette, the author recalls a time in High School when the students were tasked with the assignment of taking a day and doing whatever they wanted (within reason) to express who they really were.
Most people came to school wearing crazy clothes, or doing weird activities that highlighted their favourite hobbies. They were acting unconventionally, but almost all in a strangely similar way.
But the person that stood out the most did none of these. He didn’t do anything flashy or outlandish, but did something incredibly sincere and also truly different.
What did he do? You have to read the book!
Rob Go is a former senior associate for Spark Capital. Now he’s an entrepreneur working on a secret project. This post was originally published on his personal blog and is re-published here with permission.
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