Archive for January, 2011

Power of Quora: Pick Your Own Crowd

Monday, January 17th, 2011

In my initial review of, I wondered how it was going to cope with the masses. The current value of quora is largely in the crowd that is on there. There are top-level founders, CTO’s, etc giving valuable insight into their way of doing business and the current use of technology. So what will happen to that when the masses come? On most forums, the experts leave or quality topics get buried by loads of trivial ones.

However, I now believe I figured out the power of quora: you can pick your own crowd.  By following the right people, you automatically select the quality and topics that you are interested in.   In time, generic topics like ‘webdevelopment’ will probably be swamped (at least, without heavy moderation), but brilliant people, will stay brilliant and will keep giving high quality answers: you just need to find them.

Freemium and Bootstrapping

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

These last few years the Freemium business model has gotten lot of attention and examples.  Basically it’s to offer free accounts to your service with an option to upgrade to a paid pro account. Key is to create enough benefit and goodwill to get those upgraded members.

Another interesting development is the notion of ‘Bootstrapping a company’. Which comes down to  starting a company self-funded, with minimum means. This is nothing new, most businesses in the past centuries have probably been started this way.

What I am interested in is the combination of using a freemium model for a bootstrapped (online) business.  It seems natural to create a free site first, as a side project, and add the paying part later, when it gets some traction. You would think that’s perfect for bootstrapping, as at first you can just focus on the idea itself, instead of building the whole business. It’s just going to cost you some time as there is no need to invest heavily in sales: free sells itself.

However, I believe this is generally a bad idea. First of all, free accounts create volume. This means your costs will grow and development will become more complicated with the larger scale.  Furthermore, it’s hard to pay for promotion,  when you are unable to determine returns on the extra users you gain. What if those expensive clicks just lead to more free money-draining signups?  This disconnection between scale and revenue involves risk, that you may not be able to take without an outside investment. It could take a while before you find the right balance to turn a freemium business into a profitable one.

A perceived advantage of a free version is that lots of users will get you a lot of feedback to improve your product.  However, feedback from users that don’t pay, does not necessarily say anything about the reasons users are not upgrading.

If you are going with a freemium model, I do have some advice:

  • Put very strict limits on the free account from the very start. If you have to put up limits afterwards, this will only get you angry users;
  • Add new features to your paid version first. Make sure that those members that are paying feel valued;
  • Think very hard about the cost of a free user, especially over time. For example, starting a freemium video site is probably not a very good idea without a stack of money;
  • If possible, make sure free accounts generate content  (unique content can potentially get you traffic)
  • Develop the paid version first, make sure it is worth the money and only after that add a free version to help promotion and to convince new customers.

All in all, using a freemium model complicates things in a way that makes it hard for a bootstrapped company to really follow it through.  In the end you are partly creating your own competitor, available for free.


Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Last week I was introduced to . It’s a smart Q&A on almost everything. The crowd is currently very tech oriented, thus so are the questions.  The most notable difference to existing forums and Q&A sites is the way you select the content you are interested in.   You can follow  people, topics (tags)  or specific questions.  All together building a feed of questions and updates tailored to your interest.

I see some relation to asking a question on Twitter, however with Quora your other followers can actually see the responses. Currently, the quality of answers is one of the big selling points. The people answering are CTO’s, founders, etc. making it a great place to read up on new trends.

Although it took a while for me to figure out the search box,  it works very very well and incredibly fast. It can find people, topics and specific questions as you type.

As with every new service,  there are still a few things in there that are not as smooth as desirable. First of all, it is hard to see what has been read. This has been a standard functionality in almost every forum out there, not without reason. Furthermore, the homepage feed is structured a bit weird. For example to me it would make more sense to group   the ‘new question added’  and ‘answer added’ on the same question  together, instead of having them at multiple points in the time-line. Especially annoying is the fact that new items are added to the homepage at the top, while you are reading, moving you away from what you were reading. Finally, on the homepage it some times it shows topic suggestions on the right, but not always. If it’s not showing there, I find it hard to figure out where I can get those.

There are some other things I wish there were in there:  for example a way to ‘archive’ certain questions, so they don’t appear anymore, even though they are on a topic I’m following. I would also very much like to see a global feed with all questions, that does not look like a diff screen.

In general it feels very promising, however the big question is: how will it cope with the masses? As soon as this goes beyond the early adopters, will I still be able to cope with the large amount of questions on the topics I’m interested in?  Or will I have to wade through batches of unanswered and uninteresting topics?