Good to Great

Regardless of how many business books I go through, the one that I keep referring back to is Good to Great.

The book is based on an interesting premise. Jim Collins and a team of researchers identified and studied eleven companies that made the leap from good to great, and then sustained that greatness for at least fifteen years. Both the results of the study and the way in which Collins presents said results contributed to this book quickly becoming one of my favorites.

What is surprising, considering the simplicity of the ideas presented in the book, is how few companies actually adhere to the principles that were developed based on the findings. The companies that fit the strict criteria that Collins laid out didn’t include the big names that we usually read about (Coca Cola, McDonalds, Microsoft), but rather, the likes of Wells Fargo or Gillette- companies which rarely seem to be brought up in case discussions.

Even more interesting is that whenever you read about a company performing poorly, they are usually in violation of one or more of the principles that Collins found all eleven good-to-great companies shared.

So, what are these principles?

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Business @ the Speed of Thought

After reading ’Business @ the Speed of Thought’, my respect for Bill Gates has increased exponentially. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t a fan of his before. I’ve always been impressed by the strategies that Microsoft carried out in its early days, but that doesn’t come close to how impressed I am now. In this book, published in 1999, Gates outlined how information systems, the Internet, and technology in general would change the way that businesses function. Along the way, he made some incredibly accurate predictions, most of which have since become huge industries: smart phones, smart homes, social networks, and an array of other uses for the Internet-a few of which have yet to be developed.

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Ideal skills for a startup founder

While reading A Study in Scarlet, I came across an interesting list. Dr. Watson had taken the time to outline Sherlock Holmes’s strengths and weaknesses. Now, here’s the interesting thing about Holmes. He is the ideal detective. He’s dedicated his life to the pursuit of reason and solving crime. If we put it in terms of the 10,000 hours to master a skill rule, he’s invested a lot more than that into the subsets of what it takes to be a perfect detective. Let’s take a look at the list.

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What should I do with these startup stories?

I started writing a collection of articles featuring the stories behind how startups acquired their first users about a month ago. While the research got tiresome at times, I enjoyed finding out about some of the lesser known strategies that they used- such as Airbnb’s spamming of Craigslist. Discovering a clever method like that is a lot of fun, and writing about it insures that I have a good resource to refer back to in the future.

Not really knowing what to do with them, I posted them on /r/Entrepreneur.

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The story behind Airbnb’s success

Airbnb, the massively popular website for renting out lodging, was last valued at about $10 billion. Not bad for a company that got started in 2008.

It really is a great service too. But that’s not what I’m interested about when it comes to Airbnb. No, it turns out that their customer acquisition methods were quite fascinating. Did they really building a significant portion of their userbase by spamming Craigslist? Let’s take a look.

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How Tinder did it

With the wide selection of dating websites and applications that were available in late 2012, it would have been easy to brush off Tinder as just another useless application when first hearing about it.

That would have been a mistake. Today, Tinder is estimated to have over 10 million active daily users. It went from being a new player with lots of competition to one of the biggest in the field. It won TechCrunch’s “Best New Startup of 2013” award. Even if online dating isn’t for you, the methods that they used to accomplish this huge growth are worth looking at. Let’s see how they did it.

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What made Groupon work?

Groupon held its first holiday party in the apartment of Ken Pelletier, its CTO. He cooked for the whole company and their guests. The next year, this was slightly less feasable. The company had grown to over 300 employees. And the year after that? Over 5000.

How did Groupon, the deal-of-the-day website, grow so fast despite being based on such a simple concept? What allowed them to become ‘the fastest growing company ever’? What can we learn from Groupon?

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Three reasons Foursquare became so successful

It’s not surprising that ‘location based’ has inspired hundreds of apps over the past decade. Ever since smartphones begun to take shape, the competition in this field has been immense. It’s easy to see the appeal in developing these kinds of apps. The concept is straight forward, and there is no definite winner as of yet. There are, however, countless contenders- from Gowalla to Loopt to Google Places.

There is one service that sticks out. Foursquare, the check-in app launched in 2009, has been getting a lot of media attention. With 45 million users, they are definitely a big player.

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How Quora and reddit solved the chicken and egg problem

Getting users contributing on an empty website is a bit of a problem. After all, if you don’t think you’ll get feedback or attention for whatever it is you’re submitting, why bother?

This is called the “chicken and egg problem.” It is a problem most communities face when first starting off. You can’t get users contributing without content, and you can’t get content without users contributing. Fortunately for us, there are solutions. One simple way is to branch out from an already existing community. A good example of this is Imgur (popular image sharing website), which built itself as a tool for redditors. Then there’s the method that reddit and Quora used: generating the content yourself.

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