Design vs. Engineer
Startup Tip #8 Design vs. Engineer
While too early to draw any hard conclusions, an interesting dichotomy has started to emerge with some new Internet companies. The trend involves user adoption as correlated to design oriented companies vs. engineering oriented companies.
Using some simple case studies: Tumblr vs. Posterous and Foursquare vs. Gowalla, it is obvious that both Tumblr and Foursquare have jumped ahead of Posterous and Gowalla in several key metrics. Tumblr’s traffic rank is in Alexa’s top 100 U.S. sites (#61) and Foursquare (#346) is in Alexa’s top 500 U.S. sites for traffic rank. At Alexa, Posterous is ranked #409 and Gowalla’s Alexa traffic rank is #3,723
Posterous is a Y Combinator company with prominent angel investors, Chris Sacca and Mitch Kapor. It’s founders are software engineers with computer science degrees from Stanford. Tumblr’s founder is a high school dropout. Posterous is extremely well engineered, but its design is not user friendly and it’s less visually attractive from a user perspective, as compared to Tumblr.
Austin-based Gowalla is backed by Greylock Partners, Alsop-Louie Partners, Founders Fund and prominent angels, Jason Calacanis, Justin Rose and Chris Sacca. While its founders are designers, the Company’s engineers decided that check-ins would only be permitted if user presence could be verified via GPS (Foursquare check-ins are more lenient). Check-ins usually occur indoors and GPS does not work indoors. This engineering decision has since been corrected, but it diminished user experience, hurt early adoption and allowed Foursquare to pass by Gowalla in check-ins and user adoption, at least for the time being.
But, there is something else at play that differentiates these case study companies. Tumblr and Foursquare are based in New York, where design, style, advertising and dense population are in the DNA. Nothing against Silicon Valley and Austin, but the $1.3 trillion new media market is really a mashup of old media and new media and the talent pool of old media is still based in New York. You can find both types of talent in New York – the same is not necessarily true for Silicon Valley and Austin.
As a founding team member of a stealth project involving new media, we have chosen New York as headquarters, with an eventual satellite presence in Silicon Valley.