Five success criteria for startups

I have been lucky enough to see “under the hood” of 100s of startup companies — mostly early-stage web technology companies — and I’ve spotted some patterns.

That is to say, startups that I’ve seen succeed often adhere to many of these criteria. These aren’t “hard and fast” rules, but they are ways of increasing your chance of success, reducing obvious failures and making your startup journey a tiny bit less painful.

1. Solve a problem for a clearly-defined customer

A clearly-defined customer is best illustrated by way of a couple of example startup ideas;

Appointment booking for dental surgeries
Recruitment software for hospitals
A site that lets you compare local property agents


A social network
A search engine
An instant messenger

Not because the problem is “too hard”, but because the audience is too wide.

Too many startups say (and believe) that their product is for everyone. The allure of 6bn people — “everyone could use this” — is very strong. But this actually makes things harder not easier.

Because your audience is everyone, it’s also no one; you can’t tell the relevant people who might be interested and you can’t possibly hope to communicate with everyone.

2. Talk to an addressable market

This goes hand-in-hand with the ‘clearly-defined customer’ point. If you can define your customer well you should also be able to talk to them relatively easily.

A wide, poorly-defined market means that you don’t know which channels or message to use to reach people.

If you’re targeting a type of business, or a type of customer in one sector or niche — it becomes much easier to reach them.

For example;

“Our software helps restaurants manage their staff rotas and shift booking” allows you to identify;

AdWords keywords to investigate,
Events to sponsor or exhibit at,
Trade bodies to partner with,
Business demographics to target ads to,
…and many more, way beyond my marketing skills.

The inverse; “Our time scheduling software manages teams from 10 to 10,000” leaves you with very little to go on.

3. Offer a paid product from day 1

Pricing products is hard, this is true. However, it’s also true that people don’t value that which they get for free.

This is not to say that ‘freemium’ is a bad idea — offering a limited set of functions or a pared-back service for free, then converting customers over to a paid account can be the right approach.

The danger comes where you’ve only got a free product and hope to generate revenue from user mass. Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc — all operate in this way — giving away the core product but making money from the users at their massive scale.

You are not Google, Twitter or Facebook. Ask customers to pay for your product.

Additionally — solving a problem for customers, with a product that’s good enough for them to pay you is a great focus, and a great validator that you’re on to something.

4. Global from day 1

The biggest differentiator between online business and ‘offline business’ is the breadth of market you can reach online. A high street store selling widgets can still be successful, but an online widget store can reach the whole planet.

Too often we place barriers to global customers — some great tips are:

  • Make pricing clear, and maybe in US dollars
  • Make internationalisation a priority, including multi-lingual copy
  • Offer support at times that work for your customer base

Launching a startup that’s not aiming at global success seems like shooting yourself in the foot.

5. Don’t be first, be better

Don’t be put off because you’re not the first player in your market. Yes, some markets are over-saturated (Flappy Bird clones), but you also don’t need to be first to a market to make a success of it.

Competition forces all startups to work harder, innovate faster, and offer a better product.

Google wasn’t the first search engine
Facebook wasn’t the first social network
Dropbox wasn’t the first easy cloud backup service

You don’t need to be first to a market, you just need to be better.

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How to: stop Chrome from bypassing AdBlock on YouTube

As reported (Google Chrome reportedly bypassing Adblock, forces users to watch full-length video ads), it’s possible to fix this behaviour:

Uninstall the YouTube ‘app’ within Chrome

  1. Enter ‘chrome://apps‘ into the address bar
  2. Right-click on the YouTube icon
  3. Choose ‘Remove from Chrome’

All done, AdBlock should now behave as expected.

Inside the PXP3 Slim Station

The ‘PXP3 Slim Station‘ is a ‘knock off’ handheld games console. Made in China and unbranded, it’s packaged in a smaller version of a Sony PSP case – cloned of course. It runs a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) emulator and comes with a built in selection of games and a plug-in cartridge with more games on. I’m assuming these are all unlicensed ROMS harvested from the web.

I got mine for £12 (including free shipping) – packaging and build quality are awful as you’d expect but the screen and emulation quality are surprisingly decent.


Number of games claimed on internal ROM and cartridge: 999888 + 900000 = 1,899,888

Number of games actually included in reality: about 50

Mainboard markings: 5013 KJ PXP2-k 2013-08-27

Main ROM is part number: MSP55LV100G

The main IC is globbed with a big blob of resin so sadly I wasn’t able to get a part number for it, images below.

PXP3 slim station mainboard internals