10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps

Here’s a video of the talk that I gave at Future Of Web Apps in Miami in late February. They finally posted it.

It’s about 30 minutes long. If you’d prefer to read the transcript, you can get that here.

The 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps from Carsonified on Vimeo.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. andyswan

    1. Speed2. Instant Utility3. Software is Media4. Less is More5. Make it Programmable6. Make it Personal7. RESTful8. Discoverabilty9. Clean10. Playful

    1. paramendra

      Just when I was looking for the transcript. 🙂

  2. andyswan

    On “Instant Utility”….I completely agree with your point.It just makes me all the more amazed at Mint.com…..you really had to go through quite a bit to see value. They just NAILED that wizard and splash page. Truly an elegant approach to overcome the “well we HAVE to get all this info” hurdle.

  3. Mike Walsh

    Fred,These are really great points with excellent examples for each point. I like the point about creating attitude and personality for software on the web, citing “fail whale” as an example.Great summary.

    1. fredwilson

      software is media in my opinion and the best software really showcases thatpoint

  4. cyanbane

    Great Presentation. Does anyone else think that 7 could fit snuggly into 8?

    1. fredwilson


    2. paramendra

      10 is a better number. I am for the decimal system.

      1. cyanbane

        I, for one, welcome our novenary overlords.

  5. Brian Rinaldi

    This was a great session. Thank you for giving it. It was one of my favorite sessions from the event (which overall was excellent). I posted my notes from it several weeks ago if someone is looking for a quick overview. http://www.remotesynthesis….

    1. fredwilson

      thanks for sharing that link

  6. George A.

    thanks. very useful.

  7. CamiloALopez

    Marketing!Loved the presentation and I think the question about marketing was key. It is crucial to have an authentic message from the company and users. Otherwise it will sound spamy and people would be repelled from it. You also mentioned SMO (Social Media Optimization)What are good tools or techniques that you have seen for social media optimization?

  8. Dan

    Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to go through the marketing phase of our services, and I think the key is going to be intelligently experimenting.There have been several seemingly useful posts on HN, most recently duckduckgo’s Reddit marketing effort.My own theme is going to be intensity. Hit and hit hard. If I get the traffic but not the traction, that tells you something is wrong. It’s never trivial, and luck is certainly involved — perhaps you get some “connectors” to spread the word about your excellent and engaging service. Since most of us are programmers, whether we can execute in marketing is probably the most defining indicator of our success as entrepreneurs.

    1. paramendra

      “This s____t sells itself!” (movie Heat)I think this is Fred Wilson’s idea of “marketing” as I understood from the video clip.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        You get a like for the Heat quote, even if it isn’t exactly relevant to the post.BTW, if anyone in the AVC community hasn’t seen Heat, do yourself a favor and see it.”For me, the action is the juice.”

        1. paramendra

          Dave. I think Heat is my favorite movie. I have seen it so many times. More so than Godfather. I also like Scarface. But Heat is really something. Oh, that coffee shop scene.

  9. shafqat

    Whats cool is that you shared the slides with your blog audience a few weeks back, and we were all able to give feedback before your talk. I personally had questions and got clarification about RESTful, which I see you you clarified very nicely during your talk.Another excellent example of embracing your community here…. great talk!

    1. paramendra

      The AVC.com community is special. Glad to be a member.

      1. fredwilson

        me too

        1. paramendra

          You too? Okay, that cracked me up. I – me, myself and I – I am a member. You, Sir, are the host! 🙂

  10. dabent

    That’s a very good summary of what I look for in a site. I’m helping with a redesign now and am going to refer to those 10 points as I review the design. I certainly can see those elements in Etsy, for example.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      It’s a very good summary list to quickly use as a checklist for sure.One cool thing: The better your project is with each of the points, the better your site should do in conversions and growth and likability overall (= more successful it will be.)

  11. Matt A. Myers

    Yay! Maybe my message a few days ago to Carson helped expedite this. 😛

  12. David Noël

    Glad you get to spend some time in Europe to relax. You look pretty tired in the video.Thanks for posting this!

    1. paramendra

      I seem to have missed that tired part. Where do I look? 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      i’ve had those bags under my eyes since childhoodbut yes, i’ve been a bit ragged

    3. Mark Essel

      Ha, and I thought Fred looked pretty relaxed giving the presentation (compared to the Google one on venture investing)

  13. paramendra

    Why did I think this video was going to be three and a half hours? Did you not say three and a half hours only a few posts back? I guess less is more.I hereby propose Fred Wilson – just like he now does MBA Mondays – he should video blog once a week. It would be a 10-30 minute clip. Once a week. For this blog. :-)I like long, full length videos. http://video.google.com/vid… So I was sad when they shut Google Video down. On Google video you could upload hour long videos, like I often did. On YouTube there is that five minute thing. Or is it 10 minutes?

    1. Mark Essel

      10minutes and file size I think.Took me forever splicing up interviews of Vladimir’s startup RocketHub to get the sound right (Vlad’s startup is similar to Kickstarter but geared towards creatives and anyone can get backed)

      1. paramendra

        I miss Google Video. There you could also upload long videos, like I did, a lot.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Not a bad idea actually. Maybe no need of creating a unique video though, instead showcasing a video from different talks he’s been to; It’s really less work for him, more content for us, and will drive a bit of discussion.Not necessarily needed though. And written posts may be better as can go into detail missed that otherwise don’t flow well or are more specific to questions that might be in the videos.I haven’t been here long enough to feel I have a fair say as to whether video updates are needed to spice things up or whatnot.

      1. paramendra

        I believe in video, I believe in text. A transcript is not the same as the video of the same talk. In video you get something more. That more is also important.

  14. Dave Pinsen

    What was the name of the guerrilla marketing woman mentioned at the end of the presentation, the one the host recommended?

    1. fredwilson

      the woman who runs marketing for mailchimp

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Mailchimp, OK, thanks. I didn’t quite catch that.

  15. joshuakarp

    Fred… how much of this was a result of what your portfolio companies showed you versus how much of it did you tell them? I think these concepts are great; I sat down and built a matrix of these points against my own web app, and I’m thinking of ways to improve areas I didn’t quite do well enough. I was also wondering what would happen if someone took these principles and applied them to enterprise applications. Would CIOs buy them? What would a re-imagined Oracle Financials look like with these principles? Josh

    1. fredwilson

      i learned all of these from the roughly 100 web companies i’ve invested in over the past 15 years

      1. joshuakarp

        18 months from now, what aspects of these ten principles will change?

        1. fredwilson

          speed will become even more important because we’ll be accessing our web apps on mobile devices over a super slow internet

  16. philbotana

    Thanks for this @fredwilson always very informative

  17. Mark Essel

    Excellent, been looking forward to this video for a while.It’s easy to forget how important some of these features are when we’re neck deep in code.Speed: The programs have to pop and instantly react to users inputs or exploration.Instant Utility: The powerful default setup, and quick return of instant utility is also a must (I love configuring, but most folks don’t want to spend the time).Software has to have a Personality: this has much to do with style, and representation of the designers way of doing things. I sometimes think of vanilla utility for first cuts.Less is More: Do one thing, all the time, and it’s got to be high utility.Make it Programmable: Platform! make it hackable, invite developers to create a more specialized version. This could be #1.1 after speed. How about programmable views to your service.Make it Personal: Customized, personalized. Like a comfortable leather jacket you’ve worn for years.Restful: breadcrumb URL (as opposed to restful). The URL just makes sense for all aspects of a site. Not always possible, but definitely something to strive for. This makes it easy to find stuff when a user understands it. Other web utilities can get access to your goodies, encouraging more “programmability”.Discoverable: Give a baby jump suit to Louis Gray’s kids.Clean: focus, minimal distraction, easy to read. Drop dead simple to understand.Playful: 🙂 , only Fred could connect fat guys (I’m fat so it’s ok for me to mention fat guys) and playfulness (weight watchers game system)ha love the “fail” mentioned there Fred. Now my forgetfulness doesn’t feel so terrible.Will have to watch the rest later.Nice props to AVC 171 comments, very cool.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      “Less is More: Do one thing, all the time, and it’s got to be high utility.”That’s a big part of the 37 Signals M.O (also, their M.O. “is that they’re good”).

  18. Matt A. Myers

    Now to wait for Ryan to get the pictures he took of the whiteboard, and perhaps audio online from the FOWA workshop you held! :)Hoping you approved it Fred to go online or at least be sent to the partipants who were in the room (even if some things are whited out.. ;))

    1. Mark Essel

      Man, I wish I could have been in that room now Matt. Hope some of the info is ok to share.

      1. Matt A. Myers

        I filled half a notebook full of notes, and ideas that flowed from that. There were a few guys infront of me who kept talking; I was shocked they didn’t care more to listen. They were programmers and bug fixing it looked like. I was tempted a few times to ask them to quiet down though I was able to focus enough through it. It made me realize too that not a lot of people have the same drive as I do – maybe they just weren’t ready to hear that information though.The other workshop I chose to go and found incredibly useful was by KISSmetrics. I knew a lot of it, but they threw out a few gems. I have a good new contact now too. 🙂

        1. ShanaC

          Is there a way to open up notes in the community for various things we are doing? What did kissmetric say that was so useful?

  19. CJ

    Awesome talk Fred. The one question I always have but have a hard time finding an answer to (even harder here since you’re speaking to software developers) is this: How do you start a create a webservice if you don’t write code but also don’t have money to buy developers?I’ve seen you recommend that the software engineers should totally be a part of the company rather than outsourced, how do you do that on a bootstrapped budget?

    1. Matt A. Myers

      One way to do it is bring them on as a founder giving them equity. If you’re comfortable with this then go for it.Fred brought up some issues with a company having multiple founders though, and mainly the one that comes to mind is if you give a founder 25% of a company and they do some work, and then they just fuck off and don’t want any more part of it then well, they still own 25%, and any work you do further makes them richer.I personally like things to be very fair, maybe to a fault, but that scenario doesn’t sit well with me at all.

      1. Mark Essel

        Vesting solves that.All founders own next to nothing and earn their shares over X years or until liquidation

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Good to mention that. 🙂

      2. Mihai Badoiu

        hmm. If the co-founder SWEs bring their work in the first stages of the start-up, what exactly do you bring to the table? The idea? Really, no good SWEs will partner with somebody just because he has an idea. An idea alone has very little value.You need more than an idea: business connections, a customer, expertise in the particular field, etc.

        1. CJ

          Yeah, my thoughts as well. That’s one of the hurdles I’ve been trying to leap.

        2. fredwilson

          a great product person is worth a half dozen kick ass devs. i don’t mean to diss web developers but every single great startup i’ve been associated with has had an amazing product person and i’ve been involved in more than a few with great devs and no great product people. those weren’t so good.

          1. ShanaC

            This sounds odd to say: I keep looking at product after product for fun- and after a while I think that good product people are also honed. And I just have this question: How do they become honed? It isn’t enough to observe world- it is definitely something more.

    2. kidmercury

      i am not a developer and don’t have money to buy developers, and i have a startup, so perhaps my story is of use. i should note that while i don’t write code, i can read some basic code (PHP), understand programming logic (took a course in it and have been working closely with developers on web projects for a while now), and i do HTML/CSS — i.e. front end, design code. i also have developers that i contract work to from time to time on very small projects, i.e. a couple hundred bucks every few months.to get things done i rely heavily on open source software. i look for good open source software, and then i combine it; when needed, i pay a developer a small fee to customize it (the customization is then given back to the open source community, so they can continue innovating upon it, and i can get the benefits of their innovation, usually for free). this, i think, is the future. in fred’s presentation he talked about APIs — that is very similar, a good API will let a stupid person do amazing things (one company that comes to mind here is fred’s company twilio — their API looks so simple even i could use it, and i plan to incorporate it into my business….or i will get a developer i work with to get what i want out of it, but because it is so simple and easy to work with, it should not cost much at all. like a lot of web folks the twilio people understand the awesomeness of this of catering to people like me and are building things accordingly). so, it is really about finding great open source software and great APIs. if you can do this, open source and APIs are essentially your software development department.this is a trickier approach IMHO, but i think the rewards are huge — namely an engineering department for your business that is basically free.anyway, just my $.02.

      1. CJ

        Thanks Kid, this helps alot.

      2. Mark Essel

        Open source is pretty amazing, read/write software collaboration and sharing. It’s humbling to see how good some of these guys and gals are.At one point in your financial curve would you begin spending more on technical expertise? If you made double the revenue you made now would it make sense.I think of hackers & engineers as stepping on the gas for an idea. If your information and instincts are both solid, you’ll see quick response to the developed tools/service. I decided to pay a freelance developer to build a specific app, but just as importantly to rapidly learn how a professional deals with xmpp and the wave protocol which would otherwise take me months (or weeks full time). The results will all go to the open source community (and Victus Media).Unfortunately, it can take exploration (time) to find the right service/audience and it’s risky (may never find traction).

        1. kidmercury

          i have started to spend more on technical expertise. first issue wasto get some server issues resolved, and to have them deal with somemaintenance/upgrade issues. eventually, if i can continue growing,i’ll build open source communities. i will need to hire some techstaff internally, but i think that number will be small. at least, ifi do it properly. “craigslist on steroids” is the goal.glad to hear you are embracing open source communities as well. ithink it will have lots benefits, can even be a marketing benefit, inaddition to a cost-savings benefit.

    3. fredwilson

      i think you need to network with developers and find some who buy into your vision and then give them some founders stock to make them partners, not necessarily equal partners, but true partners

      1. CJ

        Thanks Fred, I’ve thought about this approach but was wondering how do I avoid being cut out of my own startup since in the beginning anyway, their work will be what drives the company and they could, maybe even rightly so, figure that they could do the work and reap all of the profits. I look to the Crunchpad situation as an example of what happens when you mostly bring an idea and late-stage value to the project, with your engineers providing most of the ‘work’ early on. I guess it comes down to picking people you trust and making sure they know that you’re working every bit as hard as they even if your work isn’t as easily quantifiable as theirs?

        1. Mark Essel

          You nailed it – trust.

      2. Mark Essel

        It’s interesting to see what share founders split their ownership with tech cofounders. My cofounder is more adept at web programming, but we’re both learning and pushing/growing our abilities.At the point I’m at the ownership is not as important as the result of our efforts. When I help build a valuable service/product, am I concerned with owning 50 something percent? Not too much.I need to be in the position to make decisions that feed company growth. I’m beginning to believe I could do that with a smaller percentage than I first thought (as a first timer).

        1. CJ

          When I think of ownership I first think of leverage and then profit. If it’s my company then I always want my opinion to matter, even if I’m wrong. It doesn’t always need to be law, but it has to be listened to every time I express it. I’d hate to get in a position where if enough people teamed together they could take the company in a direction that I’m not comfortable with. That doesn’t mean I’d be uncomfortable with less than 50%, it just means that having a lot less than 50% would depend largely on having the remaining percentages of the company diluted over a large enough number of people to make it nearly impossible to marginalize me.

          1. ShanaC

            Something I realized- it is not dilution that does that, it is the people you are with too. It is also about managing opinions once you start to grow: everyone has them, and some are good….

  20. hanakimis

    “Clean” sounds very much like an application with a great User Interface… I second the Tumblr login and larger fonts…

  21. Charles Birnbaum

    liked that weight watchers analogy. I think something you alluded to early on in the presentation regarding the difference between “power” and “mainstream” users is critical. I would think a great deal of what separates the winners from the rest of the pack is managing the transition from early adopters to mainstream users, something even the most well-built apps have to deal with at some point once the viral juice kicks in.

    1. fredwilson

      crossing the chasm is hard

  22. William Mougayar

    That list is golden,- you nailed it.How about “Virability” (if such a word existed); where there’s something in the app that turbo-charges the viral effect you need to get critical mass and speed of adoption by a cascade of users (Twitter is the ubber-viral app). It’s not a marketing thing; there has to be something in there such that people can easily share, embed, re-purpose, curate, user-generate, etc. It might have been implied in one of the 10s’, possibly a follow-on to “Instant Utility”.I know you’ve previously indicated you’re not a fan of writing a book, but you have a number of these lists of 10-something. It would make a nice collection. “Fred Wilson’s 10×10: 10 essential lists of golden principles”. (or 100 Golden Principles from 10 Essential Lists) It could be a pdf wrapped with the video links, transcripts, key comments from your blogs…#justsaying.

    1. fredwilson

      avc.com is my book. only it doesn’t end. at least not until i do.

      1. William Mougayar

        Lol! I knew you would say something like that. With improved search (as per previous feedback), avc.com will be perfect.

  23. RichardF

    Priceless talk Fred.It’s brilliant that talks like yours from conferences are available on the web, particularly when you live in the UK. I wonder if there is a good resource list anywhere…..think the 6th word you were missing was “open” by the way ;)Hope your enjoying proper croissants they don’t make them better anywhere in the world!

    1. fredwilson

      yup. open. that afternoon after the talk, the gotham gal and i were sitting by the pool and i thought “shit, how could i forget open?”

  24. jasonlynes

    love love love #3. thank you for bringing up personality and attitude in software development. so important. personal, usable, playful, all great. well done.

    1. fredwilson

      i should have called it attitude. that’s what it is.

  25. aanwar

    Awesome points.

  26. elliot

    thanks for a great presentation. another term for the Rest principle is “pretty URLs,” which are usually accomplished with a practice called URL rewriting. given Twitter and mobile devices (small screens), it’s helpful to design your pretty URL scheme with short words. designing pretty URLs is almost an art unto itself: ideally they will be easy to read and understand, fit into a tweet without a URL shortener (furthering your brand), and contain the right keywords to favorably impact SEO.

  27. JulienNakache

    Always great to hear from you. I really appreciate the way you understand/use/enjoy the products developed by the company you are investing in. As myself a young VC in Europe, I feel it lacks a lot down here…

  28. timtasker

    Great article, thanks for sharing!I think web apps is the future of the internet, especially the ones mobile based, having mobile devices as the most widely used.Join the conversations about web apps and other business topics here http://bit.ly/azEurc

  29. John Ranaudo

    Fred, care to share the sixth word from your companies beliefs when assessing web apps?1. mobile2. social3. global4 playful5. intelligent6. ?

  30. jitendrachauhan

    Hi Fred,This is great and eye opening talk. I liked all the points, and playful is on the top of my list right now. I there is another point that can be here is ‘secure’. Non Secure apps can suck big time and tarnish the brand image the startup or well established company.RegardsJitendra chauhaniViZ Technosolutions Pvt Ltd

  31. Joe Siewert

    Just found some time to finally watch the talk. Great points and thanks for sharing. Especially liked the comments about guerrilla marketing and street teams. I’ve been doing this type of thing with foursquare streetups in Minneapolis and hope it has helped at least a little.