I doubt that Steve Jobs has ever asked Apple customers what type of products they want, or that he cares about what they need. Jobs believed that if he developed a mobile phone that plays music and surfs the web, he could create both the want and need. He was right: his iPhone changed the industry and started a mini technology revolution. Most of the entrepreneurs I know fancy themselves to be like Jobs. They think they know—better than their customers—what the customers want, and what they need. Or they believe, as in the movie Field of Dreams, that if you “build it, they will come”. But it just doesn’t work this way in real life. The vast majority of technology startups fail because no one buys or uses their products.
…The best example I’ve seen of a startup looking before it leaps is Campfire Labs. The startup has spent 14 months prototyping products. It hasn’t even started developing its products yet. It could be that Campfire never gets off the ground, but if and when it does, it has a better than average chance of becoming a Zynga or Facebook. In the meantime, it has already lived at least three lives (but, fortunately, hasn’t had to die three painful deaths). Campfire was founded by former Yahoo! search technologist Naveen Koorakula and, former Youtube head of international strategy and product, Sakina Arsiwala. Their goal is to change the way people collaborate on line—to make it more meaningful and to better manage the many contexts in which they interact (work, home, school, etc.).
[Our mission at Campfire Labs has been to make our lives more social, by helping people spend time with those that really matter to them. We’ve spent over the last year and a half working with academics and student communities from Stanford, Kenyon, Berkeley, Duke, Columbia and more than 30 other schools from across the country to understand what motivates and drives social interactions in the online and the physical world. It seems obvious in retrospect – spending time together offline is a key driver for building strong social relationships and higher happiness scores. Consequently, we spent a lot of our time building technologies towards this goal of having shared experiences with friends. As any search / social technologist can tell you, this involves extremely hard technology and product problems, that we are proud to have made great inroads towards.