Of Startups and Glue

If there was just one third party app that I was allowed to install on any computer, it would be, without a doubt: this. It isn't particularly sexy, nor cheap, not even easy to use but, what it does have is glue. Alfred, for one price, for one app and for one learning curve will glue all of the disparate parts of your Mac OS X (that poll is filled with wrong) into one, quick to fire, application.

This isn't particularly interesting, nor is it all that new on the know-thy-shit scale-o-meter. However, for some reason this concept of "glue" is still a mystery in the world of startups. Let's start this part of the "conversation" off with a simple question:

What is a startup?

Let's ask Paul Graham. I am fairly sure he knows a thing or two about the subject. Repeatedly, Paul cites a startup as a "fast or rapid growing company". Ok, well that was easy. Just build a company that can quickly accelerate itself to scale and boom! Startup born...or sort of.

I like velocity as a better measurement over speed. Velocity includes direction, which tends to be a good thing for a startup. How rapid does a startup need to iterate and build to achieve optimal velocity in hopes of a margin of success? This question is hopelessly difficult to answer and in a roundabout way, we will look at some things that one should do to potentially succeed.

This is where the glue comes in. If two businesses need to build an identical feature and business1 implements an existing, mostly free API and takes 30 minutes vs business2 who implement their own solution, who wins? Perhaps business2 wants to control their own 'stuff' or were just naive to the fact that the API exists. Regardless, they wind up blowing 3-4 hours of development time between two different developers. In addition they create a considerable amount of technical debt through little documentation and poorly architected "home grown ideas".

Which business in the above scenario falls more inline with Paul's "fast or rapid growing company"? What happens then if business2 continues to think and implemnet features in the same fashion? Business1 is solving real problems that pertain to their business, while business2 is continuing to spin its wheels building things that are currently, vastly-better designed. Where is the velocity or glue in that?

The web is absolutely busting at the seams with all of these little services and APIs. What is holding you back from creating a viable buisness with Flickr and Twilio? Just like mashups seem to be dominating the music world, we will begin to see smarter and smarter people building successful business using different services from around the web. Moreover, those folks who continue to ignore them will become less and less reliable and relevant.

If you were an investor or perhaps just a bystander, which business described above would you put your money in? The one that understands the value of building fast and smart or the one that plods along and plays it safe? My bet is on the former but, then again I do tend to pronounce it "OS Ten" (click on the links).

Have a reaction? Reach out to me on Twitter and lets have a discussion.