Nabeel Hyatt on the Next Consumer Startup Model: Metrics + Creative

2/14/12Follow @gthuang

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about what are the exceptional circumstances that will lead to such an out-of-the-ordinary outcome. A lot of that has to do with where the market is.

So, [my themes are] are consumer facing, markets right for disruption, and, third, a balanced mixture between a technical challenge and a creative challenge. I studied engineering and then went to art school. [Throughout my career] I’ve been wearing both a design and engineering hat.

X: Given how the social Web has evolved since the days of Conduit Labs, what are you seeing out there now in terms of startups?

NH: There’s still a lot of opportunity for there to be a Zynga of many other categories, one that leverages social and Facebook. We’re long past the days of the plucky game startup. Despite all the heat around social mobile, it still feels like the wild west. I’ll spend a decent amount of time with mobile and consumer-connected devices, though they have inherent challenges around manufacturing.

X: So what’s the future of consumer Web and mobile startups in Boston?

NH: I don’t obsess about Boston, or any city’s particular image. My drive and focus comes from a small band of entrepreneurs trying to build something game-changing. That in itself is exceptional.

I think it is hard to grow a consumer product. Part of it is the at-bats. If you look at Pinterest, or Facebook years ago, what you’re not staring at is the thousand failed experiments. But there are enough consumer startups [here], and there are entrepreneurs who are going to figure out amazing things for consumers.

With the number of startups up and cost down, the question for the past couple years is: companies are seeing a little bit of traction and growth and trying to figure out how to double, quadruple, 10x it. That’s where the real struggle is—how to turn that into escape velocity.

X: What did you learn from Zynga about achieving that escape velocity?

NH: Well, that’s a 45-minute to five-day teaching session. Some startups just don’t work. But I think startups are a lot more sophisticated about their product development than they were five years ago. Thanks to people like Eric Ries [lean startup] and Steve Blank [customer development]. But in the last two years, it hasn’t grown at all. We’ve hit Product Development 101, but no one’s really advancing the field, in being a hypothesis-driven startup. I think that’s the next conversation worth having. That’s our craft, the product we’re building. In product development and customer development, we’ve made huge strides. In the next couple years, I’ll be pushing for everyone to get to another level.

X: Whatever the new model is, won’t it be different across subsectors like mobile vs. Web vs. consumer electronics?

NH: No, I don’t think so. They are a lot more alike than they are different. It will not be true for enterprise [companies] though.

X: That’s really interesting. So you’re saying there’s a new unifying model for consumer tech startups waiting to be developed?

NH: It certainly happened with customer development and lean startups. Now it’s incredibly important to say, I don’t have all the answers here. There needs to be a more open dialogue around how a metric-driven approach can meld with a fundamentally creative process, in a way that makes both of those things stronger, not in conflict. There are companies doing it, but there’s no dialogue.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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