Friday, May 02, 2008

Steeeeee-rike one

I coffeed with Ben Barren today in the comfy surrounds of Errol St - or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I became immersed in the Ben Barren Experience. More than anyone else in my travels meeting the best and brightest of the Australian Web 2.0 scene over the past four years, Ben embodies the entrepreneur in my mind: gregarious, inquisitive, disarming, irrepressible... a creative mind so rich with imagination that he can't stop talking for fear of the spigot in his brain drying up. It is exhilarating to talk shop with him.

It struck me, as we swapped war stories of pitched PowerPoint battles across parched McCubbinite business landscapes, that it is a tragedy that the current Australian industry is not structured in such a way that people like Ben and myself, and others like us, can find an easy way to work together towards a common goal. Like the spinifex tussocks that my dad and I (mostly Dad!) used to have to attack year after year on our 20 acres outside Seymour in my childhood, Australian Web startup founders have to grow resilient and spiky to avoid getting consumed by the inexorable hunger of our oligopoly-dominated economy.

Many of us strive individually, feebly watered in various tenuous hierarchies by money men, activated actuaries and impatient investors. While it is true that startup founders need money, founders also need a creative environment in which to flourish. Something Keith Malley of Keith & The Girl said the other day about relationships is pertinent, even in a business sense: when you start dreading the knock on the door by your partner [personal/business/whatever], then you should know that it's not working and you should get out.

Thus we come to the subject of this post: my co-founder Tai Tran and I have decided to dissolve our partnership. This means no more Tinfinger, and it also means that I'll be the sole operator of FanFooty in future (handshake deal, a la Joe Wilson and the Galletly brothers). Yes, Tinfinger has joined the deadpool, become epic fail, et cetera: write its obituary up for your blogs if you care to. I feel confident enough to confront that fact head on, unlike some recent ex-founders, because I can hold my head up high and say that I have already had one success with FanFooty, so a failure doesn't mean I'm worthless. As I've said before, I'm following the Hitwise template of the cash cow followed by the home run play. I guess I didn't hit a home run this time, but I hear they give you three strikes before you're out. ;)

I should also say that I will be proud to have Tinfinger on my CV. It is a fine application in a technical sense: it works, there aren't any major bugs, and it had a rather high degree of difficulty to build. I learnt a lot in building it, and it contains a lot of elements that may prove useful in future efforts, like proprietary spidering scripts. It could even prove useful if someone bought the code off us (email me for inquiries/offers at m0nty dot au at gmail dot com) and put the elbow grease into it that we can't.

I have to admit, though, that I got a number of assumptions on the business/marketing side of the project wrong. The first of these was that the virality of Wikipedia would just "happen" for us too. I'm sure both Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger would tell you that it requires a lot of work from a lot of people to become that viral, and we're just two guys in a house in Geelong. (I'll try not to use that excuse too much.) Our second mistake was that we entered a market in which, apart from the unstoppable juggernaut that is Wikipedia, we were competing with Squidoo, Spock and Mahalo, all of whom have major venture capital backing and roomfuls of employees. The industry, such as it was, evolved over the length of Tinfinger's development time into a fairly blatant Google SERPS spamming subculture, Frankensteined by more cash than we could shoot our popgun at. In particular, this Valleywag comment by Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis rang warning bells in my mind. Jason's back-of-napkin calculations meant that to keep up with his pace of bootstrapping, Tinfinger or any other small startup in this new ego-arbitrage space would have to be even more unscrupulous about middlemanning the barricades of constantly updated content that we didn't own.

And we were just two blokes in Geelong. (Sorry.)

So it's back onto FanFooty, and whatever else the future may hold. I don't really know what is next. I have a few crazy ideas at the back of my head, but they all require knowledge I don't have and resources I can't tap. I'll have to be satisfied with milking the cash cow for now, and looking for the next opportunity to step up to the plate and swing for the fences again. Hopefully next time I'll get a bigger piece of the ball.

4 Comments:

Blogger redbarren said...

gr82catchup yeah it would be good to have a founders fund here. we have the founders not just the 2nd f. fanfootys a home run just ride that baby home and enjoy the bitsnpieces on the way...

6:47 pm, May 02, 2008  
Anonymous Gabe said...

Hey, good luck in whatever comes next.

I hope you'll be blogging more. Over the years I've liked a bunch of your posts, except for the absurd ones that involve my sites! It's harder to get noticed in the tech blogosphere these days, but obviously easier if you contribute to an existing big site. If you launch a new blog, let me know, and I'll make sure it's indexed on Techmeme...

4:04 am, May 04, 2008  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ben and Gabe.

Yeah, I've been thinking about whether I should continue blogging here or move elsewhere. Do I wear the old subdomain like an old war medal, or make a clean break?

5:28 am, May 04, 2008  
Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone said...

Bad luck on Tinfinger, but yay that FanFooty will be the benefit. One out of two's not bad.

Why didn't you do a Wallace and blame everyone else for this not working the way you hoped?

Molly

11:37 am, May 05, 2008  

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