Or alternate title: “Yeah, Right!” and “Oh, Brother,” as one of my daughters would have said when she was in her early teens. She would have been rolling her eyes, too.

I got an e-mail the other day with the title “Imagine Facebook for Business.”

Pretty good subject line for an unsolicited e-mail. Got my attention. But I was already thinking “OK, that’s easy enough to imagine. We call it Linkedin.” Not what the e-mailer wanted me to think.

I visited the site in question…

[Tangent, off topic: I’m not going to give the URL, because this post without the URL can be edgy and fun but, with the URL, it would be mean. I don’t know the guy. And although unsolicited e-mail annoys me, as this blog gets more attention, I get more of it; and what the heck, I don’t wish him ill or anything. I put myself out there by blogging, so no harm, no foul–but no URL, either.]

… and the truth was more like imagining Craig’s List without the listings. Some photo services, some remodelers; a total, if I read it correctly, of 61 random businesses in several dozen different places. I searched for “editor” in ZIP code 97401 (Eugene, Oregon) and came up, of course, with 0 results, followed by ads for 20 random businesses in 20 random places. Dance lessons in New York, poop scooping in New Jersey (an interesting variation on editing my stuff, I admit, but a bit harsh), computer consulting in Oklahoma, bookkeeping in North Carolina, photography in Texas, and so on.

So why am I posting on this, in this blog? Three reasons:

  1. Understand the upside and downside of the critical mass phenomenon. Sites like this work if–and only if–they have critical mass. Lots of big successes, including Facebook, Craigslist, Youtube, Netflix, Amazon and so many others, got on the right side of critical mass and managed to stay there. You and I can’t get there just by inventing some database function. You have to be original, or capitalized with tens of millions–and smart or lucky, or something else.
  2. Exaggeration can make you look foolish. Don’t be the Facebook of this, the Youtube of that or the Netflix of something else unless you really have something strong to show.
  3. What you really need, as a small startup, is focus. Let your dreams be as grand as you like, but focus your business down to a very sharp edge. For example, maybe this unnamed new site could have made it with focus on a specific type of business in a specific location. All the businesses it could gather in some small town, all the pooper scooper businesses nationwide or something like that. Find the long tail. Join it.

So this is a bit of a rant. Sorry.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.