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The 53,651 Meme -- and the Silicon Valley geek echo chamber

Brother Love
The "53651 meme" took flight this past weekend, fueled by a post from Josh Kopelman.

Kopelman, the East Coast angel investor (who we recently mentioned here) says Silicon Valley Web 2.0 startups have fallen into a trap of appealing to a narrow, geeky audience.

I think they run a big risk of designing a product/service that is targeted at too small of an audience. Too many companies are targeting an audience of 53,651. That's how many people subscribe to Michael Arrington's TechCrunch blog feed. I'm a big fan of Techcrunch -- and read it every day. However, the Techcrunch audience is NOT a mainstream America audience.

A good review in Techcrunch can get a company their first 5-25K beta users very quickly. However, I'd strongly caution entrepreneurs from taking their initial consumer adoption metrics and extrapolating them too far into the future. I believe startups will find it difficult to cross the "Techcrunch chasm" between the Web 2.0 geeks and Mainstreet USA.

A bunch of other investors have cautioned about this phenom before, but it was all people could talk about these past few days.

Paul Kedrosky wrote that "a just-launched service gets to wander around telling people that it already has, say, 12,000 people trying the product when the reality is that it is the same fickle folks who try and discard everything."

Brad Feld, of Mobius, chimed in, saying that first 25,000 users don't mean anything, seeming to agree that it is always the same 25,000 folks.

Some applied the meme to other types of companies, for example SAP's Jeff Nolan, who mentions SugarCRM as a hyped company targeting enterprise software (although, to be sure, he is biased).

Even a 53651 Meme blog was created.

We were trouble-shooting our old crappy Dell a few weeks ago with various outsourced technicians, and all three technicians had to ask us what "Skype" is, after seeing it downloaded on our computer. We're constantly amazed how many people haven't heard of these relatively huge hits, fascinated when we run into schoolteachers in Silicon Valley who haven't heard of the word "blog," though not surprised when someone at the Mercury News yesterday passed around an internal note saying we should all try out Pandora, saying it was a cool site (even though we mentioned it, in its "Savage Beast" form, 17 months ago on this blog, and Pandora itself at least four times subsequently.)

Meanwhile, Mike Arrington says he'll have a response to all of this soon.

Om has a good summary.

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Tracked: May 16, 2006 8:45 AM


I launched a site about 3 weeks ago. I have 10 members(!)so far. It allows people to view 8-12 blog feeds at one time. I wanted it easy for non-tech, non-geek types to get into blog reading, and it is. It is more difficult to actually create new screens, but I expected better qualified people to be more interested in those features. I found sites that do parts of what I am doing better and was dismayed at the facts that those sites do not appear to be getting much traction, nor interest.

What hope do I have to break into general use, when even the ubber-geeks will not give me a look? My site is too simplistic for the first-adopters, but without them, I don't get enough interest and buzz to get started.

Of course, there are hundreds just like me, with sites (and businesses) that will fall by the wayside of 'interesting'. I have a site that has averaged 200 visitors a MONTH for 6 years that has an ROI of $112. Last year the visitor count jumped to 2,000 a month...the ROI didn't change.

I put up a site for a political purpose over the weekend and one supporter said that I should not indicate how many members we have unless it is thousands because no one will take us seriously until then.

Serve people. Solve a problem. Get attention. I'd be happy with 536 members right now!

Tracy Coyle on May 16, 2006 8:02 AM
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All valid points.
But we shouldn't be missing the multiplier factor, i.e., the number of other people these initial count of beta users would inturn tell about something they've just tried..ofcourse, only when they they think it is worth it.
So, instead of trying to play a band about the number of users trying your new product/service, instead concentrate on improving and making it useful.


Startups.in on May 16, 2006 8:31 AM
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I think part of his point is how insular and west coast-centric web 2.0 has been. For example, my favorite AJAX/web 2.0 site is Netvibes. They don't typically show up because they're based in France. Other than that they are a perfect 2.0 play: two guys develop a AJAX personal portal that is completely user-configurable and accessible anywhere. Pure SaaS.
At BlueTie we are calling thousands of businesses daily to sell our collaboration suite and I can tell you that after calling 50,000 businesses we have not had one business bring up Zimbra, Joyent, or any of our other web 2.0 'competitors'. Not one. So I tend to agree with his observations about how big the awareness universe is for 99% of these companies.

Martin on May 16, 2006 9:39 AM
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I completely understand this phenomonon - our blog is devoted to expanding the users of most web 2.0 tools from that small audience to the average business owner.
Skype, for example, may not be a name on everyones lips, but it's an exercise in Word of Mouth marketing. My business partner got his parents hooked on skype about a year ago and since then they have recruited many, many friends and strangers - all non-techie types. The growth is expondential from there...

Natalie Ferguson on May 16, 2006 2:48 PM
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99.99% of a the world: "What's a meme?"

Sean Garrett on May 16, 2006 4:18 PM
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I'm in Silicon Valley, and I wear floaties to work every day so I don't drown in the tech bath water.

Truly this Web 2.0 phenomenon has spiraled into several camps. There's the dotcom 2.0 and then there's Web 2.0 as the idea of evolving beyond static to interactive design; implementing all of the available new tools and philosophies to more effectively engage visitors/customers and communicate with them.

Truthfully the Techcrunch crowd is the lunatic fringe, but they can help any start-up gain momentum for interacting in the realworld. If you're marketing a site/solution, remember who your ultimate audience is and reach out to them through "their" channels of influence.

Brian Solis on May 18, 2006 1:10 PM
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Hell, we would be pleased as punch with 53651 customers, but then again, we actually sell something (as opposed to giving it away)

shoelover on June 2, 2006 6:55 PM
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