Differences Matter

I was struck by this paragraph in the Slate piece on our portfolio company YouNow this weekend:

In theory, YouNow sounds a bit like Twitter’s real-time video feature, Periscope. In practice, they’re nothing alike. Periscope’s tagline is “Explore the world through someone else’s eyes”; it’s named after a device that rises out of the darkness to take a look around. But on YouNow, you don’t see what the broadcaster sees—you see the broadcaster himself. You click into a stream and stare into his eyes. YouNow’s camera is always set, by default, to selfie mode. The whole site is designed to create personalities and foster fandoms around them. And its features are gamified to keep everyone’s eyes glued to the screen. When a Periscope broadcast is launched, only the user’s Twitter followers get a heads up. But YouNow broadcasts compete for the attention of the entire social network through a roiling leaderboard tacked to the side of the screen. When a Periscope user stops streaming, the screen goes black. When a YouNower signs off, her viewers are instantly pitched into a new stream, where a different broadcaster is challenged to charm the newcomers into sticking around. 

Yes, YouNow and Periscope are the two leading “broadcast video live” services on mobile phones. But as you can gather from reading that paragraph above, they could not be more different from each other. One is for broadcasting what you are seeing, Periscope, and one is for broadcasting your self, YouNow. Their names tell you all you need to know.

Periscope’s rise has not hurt YouNow the way it did Meerkat because the two services are actually quite different from each other. You can see that in this chart:

So what is the lesson to take away from this post? It is that being different matters. But you have to be different in ways that users will feel right away. From differentiation comes defensibility. And in the hyper-competitive world of social media, that’s a good thing.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Mac

    ….and, not just be a ‘Me-Too’.

  2. awaldstein

    From differentiation comes connection.Knowing what you are about and how that connects to a consumer want is everything.That’s marketing plain and simple.

    1. William Mougayar

      Of course. Why are many companies bad at articulating that differentiation?

      1. awaldstein

        Dunno but my inbox is filling with companies that know what they don’t know.

      2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        I would tell you if I had the words !differentiation is definitely not our problem – but we take a meeting and it always starts with “yeah we do this”maybe our problem is that the client thinks they know what they need and its very hard to start from a position of “Hey stupid – you are looking at this all wrong”To make omelettes you have to crack eggs.

        1. William Mougayar

          It takes sometimes an external professional to help you do that.

          1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            William -to realise that a truly scalable model (we have a desirable profitable product and some growth) you need to have ironed out major bottlenecks. ( As it would be silly to throw money for growth at an inefficient process )So we are finding the “I get it” bottleneck is one of the toughest (which is all about communication of proposition). Once they do “get it” there is a love affair and excitement about how significant it might be!It is a small step from there to realising that an incomplete team is often a bottleneck (hence your comment).By extrapolation – the inhibitor for growth (which evolves) in any startup may end up as a skills gap (staffing / recruitment/ oursourcing).A key question is to recruit and keep skills in house or to consult and perhaps solve a problem but learn less.Maybe we should talk 🙂

          2. Joe Cardillo

            And all of that is why the critical person in a platform co. like YouNow is the product manager. It sounds easy but actually aligning it is insanely hard.

        2. William Mougayar

          I don’t know your business well enough, but if they say “yeah we do this”, are you talking to the right segment of prospects? Or maybe you’re not articulating your differentiation in a way that appeals to them. Just guessing. Sure we can talk anytime!

          1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Have dropped you an email, further to your last

      3. Joe Cardillo

        I think it’s because they have a poor workflow for customer development. My experience is that features don’t mean anything to users once something is basically functional, it’s the overall impression and experience (time, quality, barrier to entry, etc.) that they focus on, and that forms their perception of what a brand does and what it means in their lives.A lot of companies, startup and otherwise, tack that element on and spend time, money, and heartache trying to get people to want something instead of prioritizing customer dev, empathy, etc. Not like crappy “hey here’s a survey” but really deep analytics + directly talking to users / customers.

      4. Vasudev Ram

        For some companies, I’d say it is because they don’t care. And that in turn is because they do things by rote (follow-the-leader, me-too attitudes, copying what is prevalent in the industry instead of exercising their own judgement and decision-making) or by “policy” [1] instead of thinking through things, evaluating options and then acting in their own and their customers’ interests.[1] “Policy”, as in, if you go to them with an issue (say about a product) and ask them to correct the issue in some way, a common response is (paraphrased):”Oh that sort of action (to correct the issue like that) is not in our company policy” (so we can’t do it). Even though it would many times be quite easy to do it (if they could just say: screw the policy, let’s do the right thing by the customer – which will also be good for us).As a customer, I’ve experienced poor or indifferent (to customer needs) treatment from such companies on multiple occasions. I always stop dealing with them immediately.

      5. LE

        Business is an art . To many people (and especially in the day of the Internet and information and answers everywhere) still seem to think that it’s a science and there is some formula that can be followed and that you learn it in school or by reading. Not typically the case. If you want a guarantee choose a profession where the route is well laid out (law, medicine, accounting, geologist for the NPS etc.). Business is nuance and decision making and managing the details. Who says what makes a difference and who tries to implement what makes a difference. Simple tone of voice of a manager can matter (really and seriously). Words in a particular order can matter. Some things are repeatable (by others) but most are not.Anyway to your point of “why are many companies bad at articulating” this all flows from the top. If the top doesn’t fully understand (or in the current way of saying “grok”) something they aren’t going to be able to hire the appropriate professional to do the job and even help them. How many people can tell if someone is a good plumber or not? How many people can tell if the correct marketing professional they hire has a clue or not? Or is even suited for the particular assignment? (Goes back to the old “hire a good lawyer” stupid advice that people give as if people need to be told that..)

  3. William Mougayar

    What’s also important from a company point of view is to be able to articulate that differentiation succinctly (as this article has done for YouNow).As obvious as it may sound (after it’s done), some startups continue to be poor at articulating their differentiation clearly, and it is important they recognize that weakness and get it figured out.

    1. Twain Twain

      Quoting Da Vinci: “Learn how to SEE.” Depending on the specific problems that need to be solved, it’s vital to see and analyze from different lens before a single wireframe of a UX is drawn and a single line of code written.This is where the right “Gray Hair” advisors can be invaluable: adding perspectives to the team and enabling focus.From the start, building another Google / “be a Google killer” wasn’t of interest. This was before Peter Thiel published ‘From Zero to One’: “The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”I focussed my sights on Descartes — not on Google, IBM Watson, Baidu et al — because the mathematician+strategist in me knew their models are all Descartes & Bayes.Mike Lynch of Autonomy likes to paraphrase ‘The Untouchables’: “Never bring a knife to a gun fight.”When fighting with Descartes and his legacy influence on technology, machine intelligence and economics… bring Da Vinci to the fight.He’ll show exactly where the differences in the models are.:*).

    2. Twain Twain

      The twin lenses of Da Vinci + 1 Twain = ???

      1. Matt A. Myers

        I thought we already had this discussion and concluded we’re the AI of the universe.. 🙂

        1. Twain Twain

          We can’t be AI because we’re natural and organic — not artificial and silicate.

          1. Rob Larson

            That’s just what you were programmed to perceive about yourself 😉 The great thing about building a simulated universe is you can define your own laws of physics and define the way your AI bots (you and me) perceive themselves and other objects in the simulation. 🙂

          2. Twain Twain

            Indeedy. In simulated games universe, everyone can fly!

          3. Matt A. Myers

            We’re all just energy..

      2. SubstrateUndertow

        Coherency !That universal “Strange Attractor”, that inexorable gradient dynamic, that mutually adaptive environmental slipstream, slowly orchestrating all living systems into worshipping at the church of quantum intelligence ?”The arrow of time is an arrow of increasing correlations.” – Physicist Seth Lloyd(entropy viewed as an information pathology)

        1. Twain Twain

          Einstein would disagree with Seth Lloyd. If God doesn’t play dice … He doesn’t do probabilistic correlations.Arthur Eddington’s “time’s arrow” involved the one-way direction and asymmetry of time.Einstein’s version of time is relative and N-dimensional rather than one-way. This makes modeling it with linear correlations a non sequitur.

          1. Rob Larson

            I feel compelled to stick up for Einstein’s views on Quantum Mechanics. It is true that he never liked QM’s probabilistic (vs. deterministic) nature. But his dice-playing quote was written in 1926 in a letter to Max Born, back when QM was still in its infancy, still being fleshed out. Here is the full quote:”Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the ‘old one.’ I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.”Einstein later softened his concern about determinism. His quote about the moon still being there when you’re not looking at it was about the probability issue being counter-weighted by the local nature of subatomic particles. i.e. there may be a lot of uncertainty about where a single particle is, but when you group enough of them together to form everyday objects (not to mention something as large as the moon) then the uncertainties disappear for all practical purposes.His early opinion of QM is understandable–it is practically the opposite of Relativity. Relativity is elegant and beautiful (the most beautiful theory in all of nature in my opinion); QM is complicated and messy. However (and this is key) experimental evidence over the ensuing decades has overwhelmingly supported both theories. Each works marvelously well in its own sphere–relativity for gravity and motion, QM for subatomic / electromagnetic.Einstein spent his last 30 years trying to unify both theories by discovering a “unified field theory” which would encompass both of them. Some physicists are still working on that goal – with string theorists among those making the most progress today.The important point is that finding a theory that supersedes an earlier one does NOT make the previous theory wrong. It just adds to it. For example, Einstein’s gravitation theory did NOT overthrow Newton’s gravity theory (despite what you hear some non-physicists say). Instead it said, “I discovered why your theory, which makes accurate predictions under most circumstances, becomes inaccurate in a few few edge cases. It turns out it is actually part of a larger, general theory which stays accurate across a wider range of scenarios.”

          2. Twain Twain

            Thanks, I learnt things I didn’t know.Probability’s invention has given us a lot of utility. It augured in the Industrial Revolution and economics. Employers could collect data points about people’s working hours and then plot optimization curves and deviations from norms they wanted.It’s helped with some of Darwin’s theories of evolution as well as modeling the likelihood of star ABC and event XYZ existing in huge vector spaces and electromagnetic fields.Probability has also powered a lot of the Internet Revolution: search, advertising, financial modeling & trading, Blockchain (Merkle Trees — @wmoug:disqus) as well as in AI such as the visual recognition done by Clarifai and others.However, it has limitations (this, rather than it being about right or wrong) and these become apparent in AI and in Quantum Physics.For AI to be able to understand our language and meanings, Einstein is one of the giants whose shoulders we need to stand on.I’ve created a unified data & language system that fuses the old tools (logic, mechanics, probability) with new tools I invented.My alma mater is where electromagnetism, DNA and Higgs-Boson were researched and discovered, by the way. I walked past Maxwell’s machines every day to get to maths class and past Franklin’s lab on my way to French classes. So maybe that’s informed my geekiness, haha!The interest in physics started in childhood. I could make fantastic catapults long before there was the physics engine in ‘Angry Birds’ and I topped the leaderboard above Sergei Brin in Google+’s ‘Angry Birds’, LOL.

          3. Rob Larson

            It’s truly humbling to spend time where the giants of science made their discoveries. What a great experience.

        2. Twain Twain

          I take a bit (pun intended) of an issue with the word “Quantum” and its definition:In physics, a quantum (plural: quanta) is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction. Behind this, one finds the fundamental notion that a physical property may be “quantized,” referred to as “the hypothesis of quantization”.The more important question is, “How are physical properties qualified?”There is this erroneous assumption that quantification is the same as qualification and that as long as mathematical physics can model something quantitatively then and only then it exists. This is the WRONG WAY OF LOOKING at us and the Universe of information.

  4. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    This post stimulates, and the nuances of this to entrepreneurs are important.I am hoping to see some great comments regards positioning and UX from the commentators.Thanks Fred

  5. Chimpwithcans

    Very interesting – creating personalities to follow versus showing real-time footage of some ‘other’ event….. Very different things……. Just as some people vote for politicians based on cultivated personalities, and others vote for politicians that engage on actual issues.

  6. jason wright


    1. JimHirshfield


      1. Joe Cardillo

        The “YouFred” filter works great

  7. Michael J Lambie

    i’ve seen some solid usage of leading social media influencers using YouNow…I can’t wait to check out the API if there is one.

  8. creative group

    Fred:We get the slant in promoting, evangelizing, informing and allowing manyinside USV wheelhouse. What we don’t getis adults putting so much energy intoplatform’s that will not enhance orchange thier daily life.We really get if anyone has a montary interest in a company you do all you can to promote it when you believe in the product or service.Human interaction is more important than any decided platform that hasn’t been developed or is developed.The first computer and still the most powerful computer is your brain.

  9. JimHirshfield

    Better is different.Different isn’t always better.

    1. awaldstein

      Being better and not letting your market know is the same as being no better at all.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Yes. Just like…Who you know is different than who knows you.

      2. LE

        Except that not knowing your market is in theory fixable and not being better isn’t (in strict interpretation).”A pig with lipstick is still a pig”.

        1. awaldstein

          yup–good point.

        2. Matt A. Myers

          Thanks for the visual.

      3. Lawrence Brass

        As an extraordinary wine inside an unlabeled bottle.

    2. Twain Twain

      THIS is brilliant, thanks.

      1. Lawrence Brass

        Yes it is, and I would like to add that when aiming ‘better’ you are actually aiming at a moving target, as better implies a comparison. Being better today does not makes a person, a team or a company better tomorrow. It takes a lot of focus and a mix of being objective and humble to keep up and mantain the difference alive.

        1. Twain Twain

          So true. Humility is key.Hubris and complacency have been the weaknesses of incumbents, e.g. Polaroid and the banks wrt fintech & blockchain startups.

  10. LIAD

    **BOOM**Welcome to age of ‘Soft Differentiation’defensibility through UX/default settings/mindshare/community(Soft Power – the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. A defining feature of soft power is that it is non-coercive)Previously age of ‘Hard Differentiation’defensibility through patents/infrastructure/proprietary tech(Hard Power – the ability to shape the preferences of others through economic incentives and forceful means. Usually aggressive and coercive)

    1. Matt A. Myers

      I feel it’s a large aspect of the governance layer.

    2. Simone

      Boom. Is there any actual functionality differentiation between periscope and younow and FB and my pc/phone camera? Or is it just what each company is trying to convince us who they want to be? I couldn’t figure out from Fred’s post if younow is different or wants to be perceived as different from persicope

      1. Lou Tran

        just s**t up

  11. JLM

    .A lot of this goes back to the entrepreneur’s inability or ability to correctly fashion and articulate their vision.Words matter.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. William Mougayar

      not to appear pedantic, but I would say “position”, not vision.users will position you in their mind, so it’s your job to make it easier for them to do that, as accurately as possible to how you’d like your position to be.

      1. awaldstein

        I’m with JLM here.Vision is what informs your brand. Positioning is where our intent to articulate it in some way meets what the market internalizes.We get to somewhat the same place. I think in early stage especially vision is your brand more than anything else.

        1. William Mougayar

          Visions are often internal aspirations that companies have, and they don’t always “connect” with a prospect.The right positioning needs to be discovered, if it’s not obvious.

          1. awaldstein

            Of course.With the few turnarounds I did, I’ve adopted your approach and it worked as there is more legacy internally and externally to deal with.For startups, in my view, that separation is not as natural and the vision is often the brand value itself in early days.Flushed it out here a bit http://awe.sm/tAw4SOf course, there is more than one way to approach this and there as many strategies as there are brand strategists.

  12. pointsnfigures

    make sure the difference is big enough and the niche you are building value for has enough potential to bring the company to sustainability. In some cases, you won’t know the potential because as I read here, you can never size a market on Excel. https://medium.com/on-start

  13. Semil Shah

    To me, it seems the key difference is that YouNow had a headstart, which enabled them to build a community that wouldn’t just jump to the next thing. I’ve used Periscope and seen many where the broadcaster simply uses the front-facing camera. What’s more critical here IMO is where does one’s audience come from? If someone is tied deeply into Twitter, then it’s easier to siphon off that attention into Periscope. By contrast, a network like YouNow might be better for helping discover new people (that aren’t in my Twitter network). So the difference here seems to me to be less about the which camera is on by default, and more about “who” is watching on the other end.

    1. Mike Gray

      Having a community on the platform certainly helps YouNow’s broadcasters. Even influencers coming from other networks (i.e. YouTube) are able to grow their other social following from the YN community. A key selling point.

      1. awaldstein

        Good point.The Youtube community is a huge one to siphon from.And as @semilshah:disqus knows I believe strongly that the community is the marketplace in many respects ( http://awe.sm/tAw2Q ).

    2. pointsnfigures

      How do you think you can build community on Periscope? Isn’t it just your “Twitter” community? Hence, as long as you build community on Twitter, you get the knock on effects from Periscope. I think you probably identified the key differentiator between YouNow and the others.

      1. Semil Shah

        I am just speculating, but maybe doing something so new/innovative/valuable that people have no choice but to learn Periscope to see it.

        1. pointsnfigures

          interesting to think about that.

          1. Semil Shah

            I think Sacca is doing very interesting things in this regard.

          2. pointsnfigures

            I am thinking in terms of B2B, not necessarily B2C.

          3. Semil Shah

            One area to explore is how Master Class is doing — content marketing via education.

          4. awaldstein

            Been watching them as they have rounded up the top of the brand ladder.Just being close to names of that ilk kinda breaks new ground.Know anyone who has actually taken a class?

          5. Semil Shah

            No, but I know many of the early investors in the company, if that helps. They are genuinely excited about the founder and the content so far.

          6. awaldstein

            These are global brands and a huge pull.They will not have an issue driving subscriptions but they need to be super conscious of customer satisfaction obviously.Emulating and working with our heroes is not always the same.

          7. Semil Shah

            The founder is well-regarded and known to be a stickler for ensuring such a thing, as are brands like Serena, etc. That part, I am not worried about.

          8. Simone

            I ‘had to’ (got to) use facebook live and periscope simply because I was following some blogs and the authors announced they would be live via one or another.

  14. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Makes me think of the product mgmt philosophy of, “move into the open space,” which I always liked for its simplicity.In the new age of feature set as commodity, though, connecting your “why” with your target market’s self identity is going to be the differentiator to rule them all.

  15. aminTorres

    Critical difference. If you want to compete you have to be better. (Much better)If you don’t want to compete you have to be different.Chose the latter. All of the effort put into being different will be driven by listening to consumer needs. All of the effort put into being better by definition will be driven by a benchmark put in place by the competitor.

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      Lovely – concise and obviously validPerhaps note alsoAll effort put into being different puts a benchmark in place for the competition

  16. LE

    Periscope appears to be experiences (watch the video on the website) and younow appears to be live video chat (actually that is what the website says). When I go to younow what I see is teen and tweens talking from their bedrooms, at least the links that I have checked and remember when I visited in the past (website only). Nothing wrong with that and it reminds me of what we used to call “party lines” back in the day. That’s when you called some phone number on the local exchange and heard a bunch of kids talking or trying to talk to each other.Younow has a great deal of potential.One of the things I think they should do is offer their back end technology and expertise to others that want to develop products on their infrastructure. This would be a paid service that would allow a startup or a traditional company to develop their own real time video product catering to a niche market. They’ve already done the hard part why not profit and grow the infrastructure as a side business (ala AWS).

  17. Michael Elling

    It’s good to see a generation getting comfortable with 2-way video. Because that will be the future of communications. Only that really requires a bump-up in performance/price of access that doesn’t exist today.

  18. CJ

    I look pretty crappy in selfie-mode. The front camera just seems to take the worst of me and multiplies it by 10.

  19. Erin

    Can we get a video software that allows you to see school shooters before they enter a school?

  20. JimHirshfield

    Famous one comment at a time. Fame is now distributed.

  21. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Warhol ++

  22. LE

    everybody will be famous for 15 minutesActually hate that expression.That phrase has become the media’s (or talking heads) parental putdown of anybody that they don’t see having any long standing revenue (ad) generating potential. They love using that to make fun of people who try to take advantage or exploit an opportunity for a short burst of fame (either intentionally or unintentionally). In a typical “head in the clouds” way of looking at things. It’s good for them (gives them content) but they reject it and make fun of those people. Imagine if a business did that with it’s customers.

  23. Stephen Voris

    Whether they like it or not, huh? That, or infamous. Social media shaming campaigns come to mind on that latter point.

  24. awaldstein

    YUp–Twitter is at it’s core a one to many broadcast platform already.

  25. jason wright