Friday, February 9, 2007

Props For Micro Business #1

Daron Yondem , a developer for based in Turkey took the time to blog about my website thumbnail generator. He thought it was a creative and useful solution.

I must admit that I used some of his code that he posted on as a starting point for Micro Business #1, so Daron may be a little biased! Thanks for blogging about my little site, Daron. I'm glad I could return the favor!

On Me Too Startups

Dharmesh Shah over at wrote an interesting piece about "me too" companies a few days ago. Here's a link to that article here

He says: "The 'me too' label has been applied to a past when a company enters a crowded market of highly visible competitors. Examples abound, such as the remote storage category, RSS readers, online calendars, personal website creators, etc. Each of these categories at one time or another was pursued by over a dozen different companies."

So, he's taking the position that there's nothing inherently wrong with being a "me too" startup as long as you are a "me better" startup. I couldn't agree with him more.

As you'll see in the next few weeks, my second micro business could easily be categorized as a "me too" business. I would have no problem with that assessment, as it's completely accurate. I'm not worried at all and I'd like to explain why.

When I initially came up with the idea, my first thought was: "forget it, there are too many sites out there that do the same thing and I don't have the time to dedicate to trying to attract visitors."

Without completely revealing (yet) exactly what my idea is, I'd like to say that my second thought was: "who cares, there ARE tons of sites out there that do what I'm thinking of doing. I'll just be a little more imaginative about it."

You see, the hard part, the part that someone with smarts and a lot of creativity figured out has been done already. The majority of those sites out there, simply cloned the idea, quickly put up a site and got some visitors to come and enjoy themselves. I'm going to do the same thing, but I believe I'll have a different enough angle on the same core idea that it'll be worth it to visit my site rather than someone else's. Again, without giving away the farm, I'm putting together a "me too" website, but it's also going to be a "me more fun" website.

I'm not worried about competition, because the competition isn't being creative enough. They're just being fast. They took the original idea and ran with it just the way it was. They're now fighting each other for visitors when they all do the exact same thing. I'm going run with that idea too, but use my imagination.

The best part? It's not going to cost me any money (other than the hosting costs I already pay) and my time investment should be well under 30 hours.

AND, it's fun!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

How to Compete as an Entrepreneur

If you're anything like me, you experience a sense of excitement, an "anything is possible" euphoria when you read essays written by the likes of Paul Graham. Paradoxically, you may also feel a nagging sense of futility or hopelessness when you realize that when Paul Graham talks about succesful entrepreneurs, he's talking about the incredibly smart people who solve really tough problems.

Like me, you may also come to the conclusion that he's talking about the top 2%. Chances are good he doesn't have people like you or me in mind.

So, if you and I aren't in that top 2%, then does that mean we can't compete? Does it mean we aren't viable as entrepreneurs? Are we destined to fumble around and screw things up until we maybe, just maybe get lucky? I don't think so, and I hope this post provides you with the same sense of "anything is possible" attitude.

If you don't have the brain power that enables you to write compilers on the weekend, how can you possibly compete with people who do?

The first step is to figure out (in VERY broad terms) what kind of advantage you have.

  • You are really, really smart (i.e. in the top 2%) Your advantage lies in your ability to do things that the other 98% can't. You can write software that solves terribly complex business problems. An example might be a company like Google.

  • You have imagination, intuition, and clever creativity. Your advantage lies in your ability to put things together in new ways. You often look at mundane, or simple problems and see elegant, obvious solutions. An example might be the guy who put together - one of the first google maps mashups.

  • You are agile. You can put together projects and ideas very quickly. Your advantage lies in your speed, in your ability to rapidly improve an existing idea. You can quickly take someone else's product and reproduce it. Rather than try to get in front of the next wave you simply ride along, reproducing products that have proven to be succesful. An example would be a company like Microsoft.

I think these traits are listed in order of most desirable to least desirable. As I hope this post explains, being lower down on the list doesn't mean that you can't be as successful as someone who's got a more desirable trait, it means that you have to be that much better at exploiting YOUR abilites than the person is at his or hers.

In short, it's about playing to your strengths and not your weaknesses because the next step is to figure out what kind of advantage your opponent has.

Here's what I mean:

  • If you aren't a brainiac but are creative then you should spend your time and energy making sure that you are using your imagination to it's fullest. Is there something that your competition is doing that you can beat by simply being more creative? In their quest to solve a really hard problem did they miss something that you can take advantage of? Now that they've solved the problem, is there a better way to work with the concept? Can you give people a better UI?

  • If you aren't that smart and aren't that creative, then you need to make sure you are moving faster than the other person. Let him or her figure out the hard stuff, and then follow them right on their tails. Wear them down, burn them out by forcing them to move more quickly (which, remember, they aren't good at).

  • If you aren't smart, and aren't creative and aren't fast then I have a solution for you: find someone who is and do whatever they tell you to do.

The killer combination would having all three traits. I'm thinking of companies like Google. When you think about Google in terms of their smarts, their speed of development and their creativity, you can see why they make a formidable opponent.

Pick one of these angles and get really good at it. You can always win by playing to your strengths while exploiting your competitor's weaknesses. The trick is to know what your strength is and what their weakness is. I hope this post has provided a reference which helps you know what those are.

I would love to hear feedback about this analysis. Do you think this is a practical way of looking at competition? Am I way off base? What do you think?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Micro Business #1 - Website Thumbnail Generator Service

If you'd like to read a very brief summary of this micro business idea, click here

Total Time Spent: 15 hours
Total Cost: $0.00

The Business Concept

If you've ever needed to get a screenshot of a web page you generally have 3 options:

  1. Navigate to a web page, take a screen print, paste the screen print into an image program, crop it and save it to disk.
  2. Use a service such as or to do it for you.
  3. Download a screen cap program like SnagIt!

I built a service which essentially does the same thing as and Since my plan does not involve spending lots of time and money on marketing my service, I expect to receive a comparatively smaller amount of hits. This means I don't have to sink in as much time building a more robust architecture for my service.

So, why would someone choose to use my web page thumbnail service over snap or webshotspro? One reason, is that it's way simpler! When I orginally tried to generate a web page thumbnail of I got a message saying that they would index the site and generate an image thumbnail within 24 hours. It also did not give me any way to be automatically notified when the image was generated. was better in that I did get the thumbnail more or less immediately, but I still had to wait in a "queue" for the image to be taken.

My service renders your image immediately. You simply get it without having to wait in a queue or having to check back.

Now, because I don't have the amount of time and money that these guys do, I can't guarantee that my service will work 100% of the time or that it will be blazingly fast, especially under heavy loads. I see that as being the price I pay for not sinking in additional time. However, I will say that, so far, the service works very well on 99% of the sites I've tried.

I also added a small feature which really does differentiate my service from snapand webshotspro (a feature I think is unique and kind of cool): along with the thumbnail image, I also give you a list of the colors that the web page uses. This is useful if you're a web developer and are looking for good color palettes or just need to know what hex codes a particular page employs. I'm colorblind and tend to use color palettes from other sites that I like (is that so wrong?).


Micro Business #1 was designed to compete with the likes of and Instead of trying to best them, I went for the path of least resistance and designed a service that simply takes an image of a web page without making you wait in line or at worst, up to 24 hours to get the image.

Because I don't have the money to market this service, I'm hoping that I can generate a small traffic stream which consists of people who are simply looking to get a web page screen shot and/or looking to get a list of hex codes that a web page uses.
Because I'm hoping for a small stream of traffic, I did not spend the time I normally would have building a robust, scalable architecture for the service. I'm sure that if the traffic was heavy, I would be forced to rethink the process. In my mind however, that would be a good problem to have.

The big question remains, of course. How long will it take before my investment of 15 hours becomes worth it? 1 month? 6 months?

And the other big question remains: what's going to be Micro Business #2?!

Thanks for reading! Your comments about the experiment or this micro business are very welcome!