Bootstrap Your Network With A High Value Niche Use Case

Last night my son drove me out to the east end of long island where we have a packed day of meetings on some family business today.

As we hit the long island expressway, I got on my phone and started DJing and we got into a zone.

As the traffic thinned out, we started making great time.

At one point I looked over and Josh had his phone in his lap. I was about to go off on him about on not texting and driving (something I constantly harp on with our kids), but before the words left my mouth I realized he had Waze open in his lap.

Let’s just say Josh is not a fan of the speed limits on the LIE. And I know that on his last trip he got pulled over for going 70 mph.

I realized he was looking to avoid getting another speeding ticket. So instead of lacing into him about texting and driving, I asked where the radar detector was.

He said “its coming up in about a quarter mile.”

For the rest of the way out, we watched the traffic speed up and slow down as we passed various speed traps.

It seemed like everyone on the LIE last night was on Waze. Which would not surprise me.

Today Waze is mostly used for getting traffic and driving directions. That’s a use case most everyone who drives needs and wants.

But the original use case for Waze is the one Josh had landed on last night in his effort to avoid another speeding ticket on the LIE.

Which takes me to the point of this post.

If you want to bootstrap a peer to peer network, you can’t start with the mainstream use case. You need to start with the highest value use case, even if it is a much smaller niche.

Not everyone likes to drive 80mph in a 65mph zone. But the ones who do will take extra measures to avoid getting pulled over. They report the speed traps to everyone else in real time. Which is what the first users of Waze did.

That led to more people using Waze to avoid speed traps.

And eventually that led to enough critical mass that the mainstream use case of a peer to peer traffic monitoring/avoidance application was possible.

The same is true of Snapchat. People made fun of Snapchat in its early days for being a “sexting” app. That was the “high value niche use case” that bootstrapped the network. And once critical mass was reached, the broader use case of a network for ephemeral photo/video sharing could emerge.

So if you want to build a peer to peer network, you have to find the use case that is high enough value that some people will do things (like put content into your application) that most people won’t. If you nail that, and win the hearts and minds and activity of that small high value user base, then you will have to opportunity to go mainstream. If you aim for the mainstream users first, you are setting yourself up for failure.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    “…Win the hearts and minds and activity of that small high value user base, then you will have to opportunity to go mainstream”. True, only if that small segment can evolve into a big one, and/or if you can continue executing to make that happen.Sometimes the elite or early adopters will lead you to a big market, but sometimes they could lead you to a dead-end.

    1. Twain Twain

      Snapchat compared with say… Secret.

      1. William Mougayar

        I’m still not sure if Secret’s closing had to do with poor execution or the market not being there. Typically, iterations will let you find the big market, if you have the time and willingness to iterate.

        1. JamesHRH

          Positioning is the key – compare the school yard position of Secret to the ‘ no harm no foul ‘ positioning of ……

        2. Jess Bachman

          Poor execution I’d say. Yikyak appears to have eaten Secrets lunch.

    2. falicon

      I think it really depends a lot on how much you cater, tweak, and focus your product on that early niche…if you can keep the ‘options’ open, without hurting the core/power experience, you have a great chance to break free and continue to evolve into more mainstream…Some examples from history to think about around this: Digg, Reddit, Twitter (API), Facebook, Nike…

    3. leigh

      It’s also a Geoffrey Moorism – i think he used the pin bowling alley metaphor.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        That’s the second Moore reference so far — @awaldstein:disqus pointed out the similarity to CtC. BTW I wasn’t even remotely involved with tech when I read that book and it rocked my world. Just this moment realizing this may have been the event that pointed me back in this direction

        1. awaldstein

          When Geoff was on the circuit most of the analogies were of course tech but the real impact was that tech in the hands of Apple was no longer tech but becoming and redefining consumer electronics.Now it is simply life.

        2. JamesHRH

          I used to know the page number in CtC where he casually referenced that everything was based on positioning (he never named Trout & Ries).

          1. William Mougayar

            I’ve been a student of Ries & Trout from the mid 80’s. And applied their thinking several times. I’ve read that book at least 25 times. I re-read it each year. That, and Marketing Warfare.

          2. JamesHRH

            T&R are all time underrated business thinkers.Marketing Warfare is good but I am a 22 Immutable Laws guy…..

    4. Jess Bachman

      Right and I’ve seen cases where a company will build features for its niche.. they are the loudest voices… but it only further cements their inability to do anything broader.

  2. Twain Twain

    Bitcoin-Blockchain started with extreme narrow use case: hyper-competitive developers who want to mine more than the next guy and show off their coding skills.Gradually, it enters mainstream — although there are strategic positioning and comms issues to overcome here.

    1. GrahamGnall

      i believe that’s where he’s going with this πŸ™‚

      1. GrahamGnall

        and a position bitcoin/blockchain operators are still trying to vie for

  3. andyswan

    How is it I never thought of it this way?Makes so much sense.

    1. falicon

      It’s always obvious once someone else points it out. πŸ˜‰

      1. LE

        I’ve always noticed that there is a big difference between coming up with some thought or concept vs. asking a question of (or giving a hint to) someone whereby they can come up with the same thought or concept. Creative, inquisitive or “always thinking” people go around and routinely masturbate (in medicine it’s called I think “mental masturbation) about random almost meaningless associations. Sometimes you can tell someone else what you thought and they will say “sure that’s obvious” but until you mentioned it the thought never entered their head. Then there are people who just shrug and think what you said is funny or weird as if they can’t even imagine someone even having that type of thought.

        1. Twain Twain

          Ruminate rather than masturbate?I did the random, “How is that seemingly meaningless thing related to that other seemingly meaningless thing, and why does it matter?” A LOT as a kid.Then, before you know it, you’re an adult with access to better tools and frames of reference for problem-solving than if you just saw the obvious.It’s the intelligence leap between literal and lateral, and looping them.

    2. fredwilson

      Speeding or building networks?

      1. andyswan

        Building networks starting with one super tight niche

        1. pointsnfigures

          It’s been said many different ways in different places before. But, people don’t believe it.

          1. andyswan

            It’s so tempting to build for mainstream

          2. pointsnfigures

            Essentially you are. You just aren’t targeting them yet. It’s that search for product/market fit in a small niche which helps you hit the mainstream. It allows you to fail quietly, and try new things quickly and abandon them if they suck. Think about the story in the book Do More Faster and the email app that became a big company (can’t remember the name)And by the way, I need to spend more time on Likefolio. Likefolio killed it for Apple earnings.

        2. Richard

          Participatory Sports niches are a great target market that tend to act in concert .

  4. Dave Morgan

    Great one Fred. A correllary to boostrapping a network on a high value niche use case is to recognize that the addition of a broad-based feature set to a successful niche service doesn’t automatically make your network a broad-based one. So many networks have fallen into the trap of believing that they were broader than they were, forgot to keep serving the niche and never estalished a broad-based network service.

    1. fredwilson

      We need to name this trap because I see entrepreneurs fall into it often

      1. Mario Cantin

        Would “the mass market appeal trap” work?

      2. Jess Bachman

        Wider the pipe lower the suction.

        1. awaldstein

          wider the pipe the more you need to use pricing as a marketing tool.bad place to start.

      3. Richard

        The Matador’s Cape

      4. greggdourgarian

        Back in the 1980s i read a Regis McKenna like explanation of this called the ‘dead middle’ but my Google-fu dystrophy must be getting worse as I can’t find any link to it.

      5. Dan T

        there is an awesome book that is all about this . . “selling the wheel”…

      6. ShanaC

        The kismine trap (from f. scott’s fitzgerald’s the diamond as big as the ritz. The protagonitz literally falls for kismine…who tells him that he is literally in a trap…… )

  5. JamesHRH

    This doesn’t add up.The core value of Waze isn’t the manually entered content, its background tracking of your speed via GPS. The ‘red zones’ on Google Maps are derived from this information.Waze as an app isn’t mainstream, is it?

    1. LIAD

      nah, the only reason to use waze now over google is the UGC.real-time police sightings, speed-traps, accidents, road closures etc.

      1. JamesHRH

        My point is that, on a head to head basis, GM is mainstream & Waze is not.

        1. Shalabh

          Most Uber and Lyft drivers prefer Waze over GM

          1. JamesHRH

            That supports my position, doesn’t it?;-)

        2. Rob Larson

          Waze is “mainstream enough”. Enough to provide value.I use GM because it incorporates Waze data into its own data set (at least in android). Into a form factor easier to understand, IMO. Great acquisition by Google.

      2. K_Berger

        Waze seems more willing to take a side street to save you 5 minutes than Google Maps.As an “out of towner” driving around NY/NJ, where there are multiple routes to get anywhere, I found Waze to be much better than Google Maps. In Chicago, not so much.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Funny, I thought of you when I read this post. πŸ˜‰

    3. leigh

      I’ve been using Waze for a while and there are more and more Wazers on my maps. And especially going back and forth from Toronto to cottage country on the weekends where traffic and speed traps are a way of life.

      1. JamesHRH

        Will have to download & give it a go. Out west, my cabin is 8 hours away.

    4. PhilipSugar

      You obviously don’t speed

      1. JamesHRH

        No comment although my insurance agent could enlighten you.It’s just not the mainstream value of Waze: according to the founders, the core appeal is broad & pretty thin – shaving 5-10 mins off of your daily commute is what got 50%+ if Israelis on the app.

  6. LIAD

    beautifully formed post.topical setupmeaty middleinsightful synopsis

    1. fredwilson

      You have deconstructed my formula πŸ˜‰

      1. Chimpwithcans

        Only one error – the ‘to opportunity’ in the last paragraph should be ‘the opportunity’, I believe. Sorry to be annoying about grammar. Super post.

    2. LE

      Google “bristol stool chart”

      1. JimHirshfield

        Why you gotta drop that shit here, bro?

        1. LE

          Next time you make a bet with someone say “and the loser needs to walk through Brooklyn with a tshirt showing the bristol stool chart”. (A fan on the front, BSC on the back..)Actually this could spurn an entire website called “” all sorts of controversial and uncomfortable subject matter.

          1. JimHirshfield

            That’s a crappy idea. πŸ˜›

    3. karen_e

      The damn synopses stay in my head for years.

    4. Brandon G. Donnelly

      this is the best for blogs that sit somewhere between a personal one and an industry/topic-specific one. i’ve been trying to do this on my own blog.

    5. Vasudev Ram

      It’s like the general thumb rule for presentations (but more evolved):1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them (table of contents – brief).2. Tell them what you said you would tell them (body – detailed).3. Tell them what you just told them (conclusion or summary – brief).Doing all 3 of those makes more sure they get what you told ’em.:)

    6. ShanaC

      very simple comment, well written

  7. leigh

    lol that’s why i use WAZE too.

    1. pointsnfigures

      I am driving to northern Minnesota at the end of the month. I will mimic Josh.

  8. LIAD

    Value axis appear to remain it waze and getting to a destination, facebook and creating relationships, bitcoin and transactionsjust skews to how extreme to pitch the initial use-case (speed/sex/illicit goods)’thin edge of the wedge?’ – would seem the closer you can get your launch use-case to an archetypal example of one of the Seven Deadly Sins the better

    1. JamesHRH

      Meaning the other 4 are still out there to be built? πŸ˜‰

  9. Ziv Reichert

    Quora comes to mind immediately!

    1. Jess Bachman

      Right, but im not sure how much Quora really broke out of it’s tech circle. At least, from the people I follow on there, its rare that non-startup Q/A reaches me.

  10. Mario Cantin

    It goes along with the concept that you must start small if you hope to capture large markets.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Or at least have access points that allow for smaller pockets of use.

      1. Mario Cantin

        True, like PayPal did.

    2. fredwilson


      1. Donna Brewington White

        I take you like that comment? πŸ˜‰

        1. fredwilson


          1. Donna Brewington White


        2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

          How did you figure ? < – confused πŸ˜‰

      2. sigmaalgebra

        I agree and have been agreeing: Now that I’ve got the software written, for “focus”, “high value niche”, “100 users who love you”, “start small”, at first “do some things that don’t scale”, that’s how I’m collecting the initial data. It’s fun collection. Hopefully some people will like it.

  11. Twain Twain

    Josh+Waze example falls into the “reduce my costs” sphere.Bitcoin+Blockchain example falls into “Costs” for the banks but “Desire” for developers. They want to be recognized as code authorities and on the mining leaderboard.The sell to consumers is “Benefits” and “Action”.In this way… value itself is a marketplace model with the intermediary being… Bitcoin-Blockchain protocol.

    1. JamesHRH

      Let me simplify for you (old ad agency model):- does it make me look good?- does it save me $?- sex

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks. The media model for what story to lead with:(1.) Killing / murder.(2.) Political scandal.(3.) Sex. :(N) Cute animals / kids.I learnt this in a workshop.

        1. Mario Cantin

          I’ve seen heroic actions (someone saving a lady stuck in her car on the highway) as high as on Page 2 of a local newspaper, but Page 1, of course, had to have the typical gloomy stuff.

  12. Donna Brewington White

    First off, it seems like just yesterday you were posting somewhere about teaching Josh to drive.I used to use Waze and Google simultaneously and now predominantly use Waze — but mainly as a GPS or to check traffic. πŸ™‚ I used to wonder who all these people were who actually had time and inclination to input this info — and then discovered that my son (a year older than Josh) and his friends were avid users. I input because I think it’s only fair that I contribute since I’m using it but as the driver this is not easy to do.

    1. LE

      posting somewhere about teaching Josh to drive.Fred is quite the risk taker. As a control freak I can’t even remember when I let someone else drive me.Actually I now remember the last time. It was heading back from Florida with my cousin in college. Celica with a 5 speed transmission (brand new). We drove from Miami to Orlando and spent the day in Walt Disney World. Then we drove back to the Philly area. I did the first leg while my cousin slept. After my shift was over my cousin took over (after sleeping). As I fell to sleep he veered off the road. We stopped and I took over and drove the rest of the way home didn’t let him drive at all. Other than that I always have “driven the bus”. (Which is a nice german bus actually..)

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Why does this not surprise me? :)BTW I laughed out loud when I read “Celica” — but I had a Vega as a kid so I’m one to talk. Now you know my age. πŸ˜‰ I could say that it was a really old car when i got it, but I don’t think they lived long.And from what I’ve read, Fred and driving are not a great combination.

        1. LE

          I also had a Monza at some point I think.…Just read that post very interesting I didn’t know that regarding Fred’s driving. I always drive (as mentioned) but am more likely to not do a good job if my wife is in the car generally it’s a distraction even if I enjoy it.Joanne says:I believe we had already been in two accidents with him behind the wheel at this point.So I guess I wonder how his driving differs in an empty car vs. with passengers.

      2. Richard

        Trust your girlfriend.

  13. awaldstein

    Smacks of Geoffrey Moore and Crossing the Chasm.

    1. LIAD

      sure but that was ‘WHAT’ you have to do and not ‘HOW’ you do it”Crossing the Chasm with instructions”

      1. awaldstein

        Absolutely.I love this post.Was a buddy of Geoff’s back when I was creating conferences. Amazing keynote speaker and still impacts my thinking.

        1. JamesHRH

          Good Lord man, what have you not done?Starting to think the Dos Equis copywriter is your mah jong partner.

          1. awaldstein

            I believe the best is yet to come!

  14. Donna Brewington White

    What you are saying in this post is of tremendous value. While not your actual point, it reminds me that we might want to be idealists or purists in wanting people to use what we offer the way we intended or envisioned, but once we put it out there, we lose ownership to some extent and sometimes have to just go with it. Even better if we maximize that usage. This is one of the things I most admired about Twitter in the early days.UGC, networks… wonderful things.

    1. Jess Bachman

      So true. Makes me think of reddit, which in some ways, the owners have completely lost ownership to the users.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Would love to read the case study some day. A wealth of lessons to be learned.

  15. Avram

    Even facebook did the same thing, starting with Harvard and Ivy leauge students, then expanded to everyone else.

  16. Twain Twain

    THIS is so true!Whether it’s old model top-down market research or new model agile Product-UX interviews with A/B testing as you go…Be mindful people will use your product differently from what starts out!!!

    1. karen_e

      Paths like the one on the left are called ‘desire lines’ in landscape architecture, and they can inspire great design updates when a college/university makes an upgrade to their campus. And then, funny thing happens, a measurable uptick in student applications.

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks for sharing! ‘Desire lines’ is a great term!I’m obsessing a bit about Apple’s new campus design because I’m very into shortest paths for people.It’s also a comment on Da Vinci’s genius in Vitruvian Man which I’ve been into since I was a kid.We start off building squares, blocks and “in the box” and evolve towards circuitous … desire lines?Haha.

        1. karen_e

          The shortest path is not always the best path. What about a winding path so very pleasant it inspires people to take their meetings to the path instead of the conf room with the recycled air? πŸ™‚

          1. Twain Twain

            This is the shape I’d like my office complex to be.So people could indeed take the winding path and yet still be equidistant (shortcut).

          2. Twain Twain

            Here’s Googleplex as a comparison to Apple’s new campus build.

          3. ErikSchwartz

            Google bought that campus used from SGI.

          4. Richard

            I read that office parks in the northeast are becoming ghost towns

          5. Twain Twain

            Googleplex London near Kings Cross has new architects and this is their latest imaginations.@fredwilson:disqus — Jean Miro’s influence is all over the “tap in the air” waterfall on right of photo!

          6. Twain Twain

            I like the T-Rex skeleton the most on Googleplex campus. That and the volleyball sandpit.

          7. Kirsten Lambertsen

            I’m so grateful I don’t go to work at a campus like that every day. I’m sure it’s perfectly fine, but the whole thing just makes me think of “Tron.”Give me the gritty city.

          8. Twain Twain

            And here’s Microsoft’s.

          9. Twain Twain

            Shortest vs best path underscores the eternal debate between:* quantity vs quality * efficiency vs effectivenessA lot of machine algorithms, especially recommendations, are about shortest path because that’s the maths that’s available.Plus the shorter the path, the lower the costs of moving bit of data from point A to point B or connecting bit of data X with Data Y on a graph. It’s efficient.Is it necessarily the best or most effective? No.A lot of websites are designed for “frictionless” interaction (shortest path to user clicking on “BUY” or other positive action).Is it necessarily the best or most effective user experience? No.

          10. TeddyBeingTeddy

            In How I Met Your Mother, Barney talks about the Crazy/Hot scale. You can be kinda crazy, so long as your crazy hot. And visa versa. Similarly, there’s a balance between beauty and efficiency. NYC is a highly efficient city (sans the trash collection), but an ugly concrete jungle. Santa Barbara is incredibly beautiful, though not terribly efficient. Sites like Mint found the sweet-spot. Apple did too I think..Love your comment here Twain Twain, as I think there is an optimal intersection between beauty and efficiency across everything – from office design to dating.

          11. Twain Twain

            The Yahoo Flickr team has published some Machine Learning research at that intersection between beauty & efficiency.They created an aesthetics algorithm that ranks our photos for beauty.Then they applied classic optimization to make recommendations of other photos we may be interested in.A more visible example of beauty & efficiency:

          12. TeddyBeingTeddy

            Love it. I like your style amigo (or amigette?). Let me know if you have a blog as I’d like to follow it.

          13. TeddyBeingTeddy

            and I agree that shot is a great example of intersecting beauty with efficiency. I’d be curious to hear how you’d use the same methodology with SF’s housing problem?

          14. Twain Twain

            Well, mathematically, SF govt could apply Operational Research techniques to find optimal footage utility.However, that doesn’t necessarily produce QUALITY of housing or living experiences.

          15. TeddyBeingTeddy

            instead of productivity-killing apps, an SF start up should create the first beautiful and earthquake resistant residential high rise park.

          16. awaldstein

            not a thing ugly about nyc.

          17. TeddyBeingTeddy

            I generally like all your comments, respectfully disagree with you here. Generally pushy people aside – there’s alot ugly about NYC. For starters, the trash all over the place. The lack of alleys results in trash out front, which heats up and reaks in the summer in particular. The subways always smell like urine. All the green is concentrated in central park. The cab drivers are exactly as described by Seinfeld. The kids there are exactly like those in the movie Kids. There are no beaches in NYC. People love NYC usually because they’ve never left. I lived there, and I lived in SF. Both efficient, only one can be called “beautiful”. When people outside NYC think of NYC, they think of being squashed next to people like Donald Trump on the train with terrible smells everywhere. When people think of SF, they think of crab sandwiches on the pier with sunshine and artists. Both great economies, not both pretty cities. concrete jungle. I don’t live out west anymore, but I wish I did.

          18. Kirsten Lambertsen

            I lived in NYC. I lived in SF, too. For ten years. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of SF is homeless people. Everywhere. I think of human feces all over Golden Gate park. You wanna talk urine smell? Take a walk through the Tenderloin. I saw far more “offensive” things during my time in SF than in NYC. I experienced far more things that felt threatening to my safety and well-being.Cab drivers in SF are as varied and frequently annoying as they are in NYC.Aesthetics? I can’t think of a more soul-crushing landscape than the outer Sunset.SF may be a treat to the eye (mostly), but it isn’t always a treat for the soul.I feel bad for people who don’t see the deep, real, profound beauty that is NYC. It’s a beauty that comes from something much more meaningful than groomed shrubberies and franchise eatery squared corners.I’ve been on a first-name basis with NYC since 1989, and I never cease to be deeply moved by its beauty. It never diminishes.

          19. TeddyBeingTeddy

            well written Kristen. Some compelling comments; I’ll give you the tenderloin…amazing that hasn’t been leveled and turned yuppie yet. But I suppose the tech nerds need strip clubs. Dump for sure. And the homeless thing is definitely a problem. while we’re at it, SF (and PDX) have among the most entitled, annoying cyclists in the country. But you cannot put the beauty of SF anywhere close to rat infested NYC. NYC is fun…but like Vegas, it’s not beautiful. Denver is breathtaking. Chicago’s skyline is incredible. London’s history is awe-inspiring. SF’s beauty is inspring. NYC is just a dump. But north shore long island probably has the most beutiful suburbs in the country, I’ll give you that. Upper Brookville…end game.

          20. Twain Twain

            Outer Sunset has this oasis:*…NY has my fave pudding…You know, I didn’t “get” SF on my first visit. Tenderloin, the inclines, the micro-climate were a contrast to the chic Carroll Gardens, walkability and clear seasons of NY. Plus SF Chinatown is a lot smaller.However, the second time, I walked Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day, discovered some great holes-in-wall food places, started to make friends and…SF feels like home.

          21. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Don’t get me wrong, I loved living there. It is indeed beautiful. The light is enchanting. And the weather is near-perfect for me (I have no need for seasons).

          22. Donna Brewington White

            And then there is LA. πŸ™‚

          23. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Yes! I confess to fantasies of living there sometimes πŸ™‚

          24. ShanaC

            I’ve also lived in Both – I actually like the look of NY more.Then again, I also could spend two hours straight looking at Oskar Fischinger’s movies.(like this… ) in a revere similar to taking a lot of drugs, from what I’ve been told by other people watching me do this. (they think my reaction is a bit bizarre)Not everyone likes/tolerates that kind of adherence to grids/shapes/fields. That form of modernism is visually very stark. However, for some reason, I really like it. SF doesn’t have it, and as a result I find it a bit boring visually.*shrug*I guess this is why I can stare at the chrystler building for a very very long time…

          25. Kirsten Lambertsen

            What a cool share! ++

          26. TeddyBeingTeddy

            Shana – this is cool. If you like it, open up a Kandinsky painting and put on some Beethoven. It’s more static than a movie, but same effect. If you do indeed like this kind of art/style, how could you possibly like NYC more than SF. NYC is an efficient machine, SF is a stunning landscape. No?

          27. ShanaC

            I like Kandinsky. I like Mondrian’s later grid works and how the grid creates color tonal fields where the paints colors sometimes appear to move and shift more for unknown reasons.The best guess I have is the closures caused by the grid causes interesting patterns in my head involving fields of color, wereas Kandinsky already makes that shift of color literal for me, and therefore I don’t find it as interesting. This is probably why I think the grid in NY is much more visually interesting.I’m also way more sensitive to different problems in shape, closure, depth, fields of color, and their interactions than lot of people that I’ve met. There are definitely sections of museums many people can’t stand that I am perfectly happy in, since I find interactions of shape, field, depth, and color really relaxing. By relaxing, someone had to stop me from looking at too many of these kinds of painting recently…That painting caused literal almost drug inducing problems in real life about a week ago. I really can just stare at it for a few hours and go “the fields are so interesting”Kandisky’s mode tends to have the colors spread:http://blog.phillipscollect…I find that the fact that he spreads colors less interesting…The first is definitely more of what NY is actually like. There is a structure, and the structure causes containment and illusory effects that cause the mind to expand.

          28. Kirsten Lambertsen


          29. ShanaC

            NY can be extremely beautiful….

          30. JamesHRH

            Pure alignment is what you need.When you open Snapchat, it opens to the camera. They are telling you: video / pics are primary on this messaging app.Perfect brand pitch is the pure promise delivered in every aspect.Apple says functional beauty is the goal and then they deliver it.My Suburban says hauling people and stuff for 100 years and then it delivers it.Promise aligned with product is the key.

          31. Twain Twain

            Thanks, I’m adding your promise+product alignment to “product-market, founder-investor etc fit” list.

          32. Vasudev Ram

            >Shortest vs best path underscores the eternal debate between:>* quantity vs quality >* efficiency vs effectivenessAnd* substance vs form

          33. Twain Twain

            Thanks, good addition! Better known as:* style vs substanceThere’s also:* brains vs beauty* cause vs correlationHere’s the thing: the best solutions (be it in tech or landscape design) combine quantity+quality, efficiency+effectiveness, style+substance, brains+beauty, causation+correlation.Apple does this well.

          34. Vasudev Ram

            Well I’m glad you asked :)……And I like the bit about recycled air – true.

          35. Donna Brewington White

            Yeah, “don’t trust air you can’t see” and all that.

          36. Donna Brewington White

            Either that or I heard it in a stand up comedy routine.

        2. Matt A. Myers

          You have such a wide range of interests. Always makes me wonder who you are and what you’re up to.

          1. Twain Twain

            Talking about high value niche use cases, lol…We can’t get more niche than thinking about Black Holes to solve tech’s hardest problems!This is what I do:(1.) Making human+machine intelligence make sense.(2.) Creating world of natural interactions beyond mice and screen swipes.Who I am: simply Twain.

          2. Matt A. Myers

            So you’re AI that doesn’t realize it? Noted.

          3. Twain Twain

            Ha! Several people have wondered if I’m a cyborg / AI chatbot / more than 1 person.Jim, William, Shana C and James HRH have seen me in real life so can attest I’m a person and not an AI.Here’s how Google’s AI has conversations:*…*…Note this bit…Human: What is the purpose of emotions?Machine: I don’t know.Mathematics can’t yet model emotions well => machines can’t do Natural Language well => needs modern-day “Mother of AI” / Ada Lovelace to get that part of machine intelligence to work.Hence why diversity in tech really matters at bottomline and innovation level.:*).

          4. creative group

            Twain Twain:it appears that you are similar to Ex-Machina (just completed watching it) can’t wait for the next interaction with humans and to teach us something new.

          5. Twain Twain

            I haven’t seen Ex-Machina but have now just read spoilers online about what happens in the movie.The reviews often refer to the Turing Test but, by the sound of things, the movie also factors in the Searle Chinese room experiment and the Replicant scene from ‘Blade Runner’.It’s interesting Ava considers herself to be human when she LOOKS AND FEELS more human — this going beyond her functional ability to pull and correlate a lot of information from the servers quickly.Again, here, Da Vinci’s more of a genius than Turing because Da Vinci wrote: “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”Turing focused on the mimicry of the machines, especially the functional rational logic of thinking. Da Vinci painted the possibility of mindfulness for the machines; maybe even consideration. Ava is mindful of her appearance, her relationship with Dominic, how an escape leads to a sense of higher purpose etc.It’s important to see these distinctions between Turing’s mimicry and Da Vinci’s mindfulness as models for Machine Intelligence.

          6. ShanaC

            I testify that twain is a nice lady who i am most likely taller than

          7. Twain Twain

            The 200+ years refers to how long it took for IBM Watson, Google, Facebook, Baidu, Thomson Reuters Open Calais etc to apply Euler’s KΓΆnisberg bridge solution of 1736 to arrive at ALL their graphs in the 2010s.It also refers to how many years it took from John Michell postulating for the existence of a black hole in 1783 before one was discovered in 1970.Meanwhile, I decided to invent a whole other mathematical model for Machine Intelligence and coded a system with commercial applicability in less than 3 years.Admittedly, it’s been distilling and refluxing in my mind for longer than that but in terms of actually hands-on building it… 3 years <<< 200 years.Thinking+working at Quantum Velocity is fun! We learn a lot about how “impossible” is only a figment of imagination.

          8. Matt A. Myers

            At that pace, it sounds like what you’re saying is the end/beginning of the universe occurs in 197 years from now..

          9. Twain Twain

            The Universe is as infinite as our intelligence and imagination.

          10. Matt A. Myers

            Well, we, and our intelligence and imagination is the universe.

      2. Brandon G. Donnelly

        in the winter, you also get “undesirable lines” where you see untouched snow. it’s interesting to see these on roads because it means the space could be better used for something other than cars.

    2. JamesHRH

      Don Draper approved visual.

      1. Twain Twain

        I know ‘Mad Men’ is a big TV show but I’ve never watched a full episode of it!

        1. JamesHRH

          I had someone tell me that I was Don Draper (professionally) when it first came out. I just started watching it this summer.It is exceptionally well written, understands the tension between suits and creatives and Don is (professionally) world class, in the first 4 seasons: he is a positioning wizard with just the right balance between moving product and connecting with consumers.

    3. Sean Hull

      This is a brilliant visual to a brilliant post.Real-world use cases make products blow up!

  17. William Mougayar

    I’m on Waze now, going to Waterloo. All clear, no bobbies. Says I will arrive at 9:55am, 5 min before I’m due. Thank you Waze.

    1. LE

      All clear, no bobbies.Does it also show you where the loo is?

      1. William Mougayar

        No. But maybe they should πŸ˜‰

    2. awaldstein

      you are doing this while you drive?

      1. William Mougayar

        Voice & hand gestures ;)Shhh (am there now)

  18. rimalovski

    Amen Fred! This is one of the key points we try to teach every entrepreneur at NYU, and I think this is as close to a universal truth this is for every business, p2p or otherwise.I’ve seen too many startups fail from trying to be all things to all people too early on. As a startup with limited staff and resources, and likely a product that is somewhat half-baked relative to where it will be 3 years from now, it is nearly impossible to serve a large mainstream market early on. It makes sense to focus on the highest value use case to start, nail that, and grow from there. This is the path great companies like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Uber and countless others have taken to success.

  19. Jess Bachman

    Well said. Same with how “tweeting what you are having for lunch” somehow turned into a platform that could quickly unify protest movements. Its really hard to say how users will use your product, especially when it’s relatively simple in design.This is something I have thought about a lot with my own pre-launch product, and I actually try to come up with a new use case for it every day… and have for the past 5 months. http://1000waystouseclosrto

  20. Lucas Lints

    What does this mean for something like Seems they have attempted to go very broad instead of a specific use case (Amazon – books, eBay – collectibles)

    1. Jess Bachman

      With 225M in the bank you have no choice but to go broad.

      1. Lucas Lints

        Right but that was a choice before they had raised any money to go extremely broad and take on Amazon

    2. Richard

      Started by the founder!

    3. Rob Larson

      The difference is that they are a straightforward B2C company. Fred’s model is more appropriate for a network of users whose value grows with increased participation via network effect. Therefore, how to cross that chasm (very little if any value when user base is small) so they can become large enough for the network effect to provide value? By finding a limited but motivated slice of the network to focus on’s business model doesn’t really have much network effect, they only need operations scale, and they can get that with their war chest of VC money. (As long as they manage to execute perfectly)

  21. LE

    For the rest of the way out, we watched the traffic speed up and slow down as we passed various speed traps.No need for waze because even on lightly traveled roads that is really the key to avoiding speed traps. You just keep your eyes out for what the other drivers are doing, particularly the truckers. They are the canaries in the coal mines. Also there are places that cops will almost never be, like on uphill portions or roads or around most corners. And if you travel a road frequently you probably already know the hiding places.On roads you don’t know, often all you have to do is watch for when the cars ahead of you hit their brakes. That almost always happens when someone passes by a cop.

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      Ah – but the tragedy of the commons – If everyone thought this way – where would we be ?So revise to “easier to sell to truckers” in the first instance and you have your hyper- niche and it started with CB radio…You copy rubber duck ?

      1. LE

        Didn’t even have to play the video to remember the “chartreuse micro bus”. Or the lines to get gas.If everyone thought this way – where would we be ?Everybody doesn’t think like me so I have never found this to be a problem. Other than with birth control, drugs and several other things where the fact that people don’t think like me is a problem.

        1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

          Hey I even agree with you where we disagree ! – It can be a problem.

  22. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Isn’t this basically about defensible beachheads?Being best at something important (however small)1) we do buildings energy waste ( we started hawking to high street retail SME/SMB)2) buildings with opening hours3) bigger ones (more value)4) Super/Hyper markets (very scalable)5) Emphasize focus on heating (its complex and has knock on effects)6) Focus on UK and German speaking markets (good technology strong environmental history)Once we got there – suddenly everyone was our friend ! – Well nearly everyone (working on it) :)Its like having a castle – Its much easier to expand from a secure base

  23. Ed B

    eg the bitcoin blockchain protocol and the dark web

  24. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    I think fredwilson ‘s been reading firstround blog”Speed as a habit” by Dave Girouard…

  25. pointsnfigures

    build a very small fire that will turn into a big one.

  26. dineshn72

    Though it wasn’t the same app per se, Skype founders did something similar by releasing Kazaa first for the “high value niche use case” ;-), and then leveraging the same p2p stack for voice calls from Skype

  27. LE

    At one point I looked over and Josh had his phone in his lap. I was about to go off on him about on not texting and driving (something I constantly harp on with our kids), but before the words left my mouth I realized he had Waze open in his lap.That’s still unsafe the way you describe it. Doesn’t matter if he is texting or not. The fact that he can see the screen and/or the phone could potentially slide to the floor in front of him (where the natural reaction is to try to retrieve it) is a problem the way I see it. You realize that, right? Apple watch would come in handy here.

    1. fredwilson

      I ordered a bracket for his phone to mount it on his dash

  28. Ana Milicevic

    I’d say people hate speed traps about on par with how much they hate electronic transfer fees.

    1. ShanaC

      except tracking fees is a lot harder…

  29. JimHirshfield

    I think your point is the reason that many people don’t like smart watches. Is it a timepiece? Is it a notifications bar on my wrist? Is it an exercise/health tracker? Is it a full extension of my phone’s features?Different people want different things…have different expectations about what a wrist wearable should be. The Apple Watch is reportedly having amazing success. So perhaps they’ve figured out what the “high value niche use case” is here.

    1. fredwilson

      We will see about that. I am not convinced

      1. JimHirshfield

        …in time πŸ˜‰

  30. creative group

    Fred:One of the benefits of reading your blogis you have the ability to conceptualize and explain how the technology surrounding you is being used, appliedand how entrepreneurs can use themethodology to succeed.We hope the acknowledgement willnot be viewed as smoke being blownup your (you get the picture).(If you didn’t smile or laugh booka therapist)Create a productive day for yourself.

    1. fredwilson

      I do view it that way but I also know some it isn’t smoke

  31. TeddyBeingTeddy

    While it makes a ton of sense, it feels like you’re kinda saying “cater to the people that break the law first because they really “need” the service to avoid going to jail, then it’ll lift to the masses.” Like sending money for drug transactions, hitchhiking, speeding, vulture lending, etc.

    1. fredwilson

      You are describing many successful go to market strategies

  32. LE

    People made fun of Snapchat in its early daysWhat is interesting to me is the entire concept of “people made fun of” and how it causes the competitors to let their guard down.You see cases in business and in life where things that are “made fun of” and ridiculed are a trojan horse which makes the incumbent ignore the true threat. And the enemy gains the upper hand.In politics the impact of Donald Trump, I was just observing, is being dealt with this way. Many keep thinking that he is a clown and laughing at him (the way people were laughing at bitcoin – notice how I tied that in here for obvious reasons) and not thinking Trump will have any impact. However Trump is now the front runner. And people still don’t see and are ignoring the “threat”. They keep using rational arguments that won’t work to overcome emotional bonds with Trumps message.If you watch the talking heads on TV (I do) in particular blowhard, giggling liberal loving Chris Matthews on Hardballd they are still laughing and saying that he is a clown and ignoring and not fully understanding the impact that he has (regardless of whether he gets nominated). This is the same thing that causes large businesses to not take action to prevent or neutralize threats from outsiders.I’ve had experience even in legal cases where an attorney has thought they have things “in the bag” and I’ve worked extra hard to make sure they don’t slack off thinking the resolution is in the can. (Doesn’t this also happen with sports teams “surprise defeats” and so on when a team thinks they have an easy win and can slack off?”

    1. fredwilson

      What did Ghandi say? “First they ignore you ….”

  33. abn

    A ticket for doing 70 mph on the LIE? That cop was probably having a bad day πŸ˜‰

    1. fredwilson

      That’s what Josh said. It happened two weeks ago and he is still steaming about it

  34. fritalci

    I’ve seen it in countless startups where I’ve worked. Enthusiasm, even in a small minority, drive adoption and evangelism. I always tell my clients to start with the enthusiasts. The masses will take care of themselves. Great post Fred.

  35. Stephen Bradley

    Love this.

  36. Jan Schultink

    Here in Tel Aviv, speed trap avoiding was not the high value starter use case I think.It was avoiding traffic. You would use Waze to get instructions to destinations to which you knew the directions by heart, but Waze guided you around traffic jams with zig zag instructions through Tel Aviv you would not have imagined before.

    1. fredwilson

      Great point. I am too US centric

  37. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I really like the “how to” posts like this. It’s like a meditation for the day.This rule is one of my favorites because it gives me what I call, “permission to focus.”When building a product and start talking to people about it, immediately the suggestions start pouring in (with the best of intentions), and it’s so easy to let those ideas fragment one’s thinking and work. It’s easy to think to oneself, “I SHOULD be working on that, too!” (Not to mention all the new ideas that pop into my head without any help from anyone else, every day.)Picking a niche that I know, understand, and ideally, belong to, and sticking to it as a matter of following this rule is, for me, a great firewall against the forces of distraction! It gives me the permission to focus that I need in order to *not* work on All The Things.

    1. Twain Twain

      A great tool for focusing from Simon Sinek.There’s no shortage of “inputs from all directions” => founder whiplash.What I’ve learned is to “fold & flex” those inputs into: “WHY is this bit a fit to move the mission / system to the next step?”

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Ah yes! “Founder whiplash” – I remember that term now, vividly, from my accelerator days, where, despite all my good intentions, I think I fell victim to it.One of the most unexpected lessons I’ve learned the last 3-5 years is that I actually really do need to just trust my instincts. The data supports their reliability (despite my disbelief).

        1. Twain Twain

          When I went through an accelerator, I pivoted as directed by mentors to fit in with their idea of where the market was.However, my instincts of “This is where the market WILL be once my system’s invented and shipped” wouldn’t leave my soul alone.So I dropped out of accelerator.Fast forward a couple of tough but valuable learning years: my system is ahead of everything else as a Machine Intelligence model.Including Stanford.

  38. Kirsten Lambertsen

    As a “hate to drive” person, I don’t use Waze. I first heard about it when it was presented as a case study on gamification. The theory was that its gamified design was critical to its success (which doesn’t negate the niche focus issue, just to be clear).

    1. fredwilson

      I hate to drive too

  39. Dave Pinsen

    So what’s the “high value niche case” for Bitcoin?

    1. Campbell Macdonald

      1) Illegal goods and/or 2) transactions in hyper inflation economies or limits on foreign exchange

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Given Fred’s Waze example, this raises the question of whether “high value niche cases” are generally about skirting the law, and, if so, what the political/regulatory response should be.

    2. greggdourgarian

      low cost

  40. Sriram Yadavalli

    One challenge I see in the app world is that each use case tends to become an app. Sometimes, startups even name the app based on the use case. This could limit the growth of the product long term. IMHO, products that last long find the perfect balance between the initial use case and the broader product vision.

  41. Govind Kabra

    I love this thesis. Can you share your insights into companies that couldn’t make as successful of a leap from niche use case to mainstream use case? You probably have better examples, but I can think of groupme, foursquare, Orkut, …

    1. fredwilson

      I’m not giving up on Foursquare. The move to two apps almost killed them. But it didn’t. Now both are on fire.

  42. Jason Hamilton-Mascioli

    Love it ” If you aim for the mainstream users first, you are setting yourself up for failure.”

  43. Eban Tomlinson

    Thank you for this Fred, you’ve articulated exactly a point I’m trying to make to some of my partners that I was struggling with.Me: “Hey guys, we should do this high cost use case first!” Them: “But that makes no sense as it has fewer potential users than what we’re working on”.Me: “You’re right,.. but I feel like this is the right thing to do but I cannot articulate it right now.”

  44. sigmaalgebra

    Fred’s post is similar to:(1) Paul Graham’s essay”Do Things that Don’t Scale”, July 2013.at Paul Graham’s advice to Brian Chesky as related by Chesky in”Fireside Chat With Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky”, PandoMonthly, January 14, 2013.at…with: From Paul Graham, 56:00: “It’s better to have 100 people love you than to have a million people that sort of like you”, but maybe originally from Paul Bucheit.Brian Chesky, 57:00: “If the few (users) you have love you and they are representative of a larger audience, then that’s all you have to do.”

  45. Ayush Neupane

    Isn’t this applicable to any business that is viable at scale and not just networks?

  46. ShanaC

    the other trick: does it perform well for a unit of one (aka just yourself)if it doesn’t you usually got mad problems

  47. george

    Sometimes the intended path is not always the one realized but I think magic often happens that way. I wonder if certain solutions (i.e. speed trap) are intended. Nevertheless, I think snapchat, waze and a few others have really been successful at building scale because they fundamentally believe in user-centered design and they’re great at laddering conversations with application activities.

  48. Terry J Leach

    Good post. It’s makes a perfect mashup with Chris Dixon’s blog post from January. “Come for the tool, stay for the network”.

  49. Sergey Nazarov

    Thanks for the insightful post.If great companies like Microsoft, PayPal, Etsy, Waze, etc… start from serving a niche market that looks like it won’t be worth much at the time they start serving it, isn’t it equally critical to choose a niche that will turn out to be a large market in the next 10 years?If microcomputers were the wrong niche, where would Microsoft be?If ebay power sellers weren’t a growing market where would PayPal be?If hand made goods didn’t turn out to have a large buy side where would Etsy be?I think your post is great advice, but what do you think are the leading indicators to look at when evaluating a niche’s capacity to grow? Or would you say that doesn’t matter as much?

  50. Rob Larson

    Fantastic post Fred.Another example: Youtube originally (perhaps unintentionally) gained traction from a user base of people who found it was the most convenient way for them to upload and view porn. (This is according to a VC I spoke with who claimed to have been familiar with the company in its infancy) Youtube may or may not have wanted that to happen, but they did benefit from it, according to the story. Then when they got enough mainstream traction, they filtered out all the porn.

  51. Brian Manning

    What a great post. I’m convinced that a niche (like the above) will be the breakthrough in healthcare technology. An application that connects, engages and services patients with a very specific medical condition will work incredibly well for that group (connecting patients, hosting patient data and connecting providers across the globe). And, over time, that application will expand to the broader population and to many more use cases…almost by accident.

  52. m c l e a n

    Just like a indie band!

  53. Bez Arkush

    I loved the post – sometimes a good story is better then the facts. Waze started in Israel because the founder was frustrated at a lack of a good navigation mapping system in Israel. It became famous by enabling people in the LA area when major construction of roads created a nightmare on the road and it offered alternative routes. Only after million of users could it offer “police and speed” alerts which your son was using.Still your post provided me with important advice of how to tackle a GTM strategy which we are facing.Thanks

  54. Donna Brewington White

    I so need to hear this. Thanks.

  55. LE

    but I try to keep it under 70 because of the limited battery.My issue with electric cars in general. You have to think and have anxiety about things like that.

  56. LE

    I would be more likely to get a spare mini cooper (which I owned in the past … a cooper s convertible manual was a blast) than a leaf. First of all if you aren’t driving long distance then the savings from having good gas mileage doesn’t really matter.Plus with the “poor” gas mileage on my car I get super performance that helps with safety. A fact that is often ignored. I can fly out of the way of trouble and navigate around it. To me that’s important. I can pass a truck literally instantly.Also not seeing how you can say that having a Tesla reduces anxiety. You still have to think and plan where you will refuel and consider your “fuel” usage as a result. The charging is available but nowhere near ubiquitous. I can hop in my gas hog and never have to say “I’m sorry” (Love Story reference). Just drive and gas is wherever I am.Honestly doesn’t bother me to burn gas at all not something my brain is concerned with.That said I burn less gas than the average soccer mom schlepping her kid to games in a big ass Expedition or Tahoe. Notice how nobody ever talks about that.Also, how much gas is burned as a result of (in NJ and other states) having to always stop for pedestrians who can cross literally (in parking lots) whenever they want without even having to look both ways? (Didn’t use to be like that..)