• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Challenges Of Working With Inflated Expectations (Starting Up)

2698188278_dd982505d0_z

There are many things SoJo can learn from Facebook’s product development path, namely around being attuned to the needs of users and continuous evolutions.

By Kanika Gupta (Chief Catalyst, SoJo)

However you chose to interpret Facebook’s valuation, there is no doubt that expectations towards technology companies are increasing exponentially with time.

With such high valuations, and companies like Instagram getting sold for one billion dollars within a year and a half of launching, reality is getting distorted. We’ve created these unreasonable expectations, where analysts and bloggers expect new entrants to have one million users overnight, and grow their companies 10x in value instantly. Through SoJo, I feel this pressure directly, and more generally am concerned for the state of the industry.

Disclaimer: I am not among the 845 million month active users on Facebook and have issues with their business model. That bias aside, I can appreciate what the company has done. Eight years in the making, Facebook created a brilliant product that meets the needs of its users. There are many things SoJo can learn from Facebook’s product development path, namely around being attuned to the needs of users and continuous evolutions. I’m nervous however, that SoJo currently operates in an environment that is not as patient.

In 2004, Facebook would not have had 2.7 billion Likes and Comments per day, and likewise, it is unreasonable to expect new entrants to do so today. Internet usage has changed, however iterations and growth need to evolve organically.

SoJo has approximately 2,000 active users within six months of launch. That is a huge number when you think of all the individual people we are supporting in their journeys of making social change happen. In the tech world however, that number is peanuts. The impact on the individuals today feels negligible, when everyone speaks in thousands and in millions.

I often use the iPod analogy to explain my frustrations with the impatient environment SoJo finds itself in. Post-Beta launch, I felt as though some people were expecting to see the iPhone5, forgetting there were over 20 iPod products on the market that inspired the first iPhone. With unreasonable expectations and a disillusionment with reality, some of SoJo’s users and partners expect to see the best now.

Over the past four months, I significantly reduced the amount of time spent at startup socials and events, as everytime I would leave those events feeling inferior by all of SoJo’s limitations. Similarly, I spend less time “selling” SoJo to prospective partners who are looking for the “iPhone5″, and instead am focusing my energy on fostering existing relationships and building the infrastructure to support future iterations of our product.

I’m fairly positive that there was not a line outside the Apple Store back in 2001, when Apple released its first iPod. However back then, the ecosystem (users, market, retailers, analysts) were more patient and gave Apple the space needed to be creative, iterate and create massively popular products.

Fed by the ecosystem, we, the entrepreneurs (including myself) are often our worst critics. Why are we expecting iPhone5s, when they’re still releasing our first generation iPod? I believe we should uphold ourselves to high standards, and that we should dream big. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so please don’t expect a world-shaking vision to be realized overnight.

One of SoJo’s core values is to “Embrace Imperfection”. I need to walk this talk, as I’m most content when I do so. The journey is not a sprint, and I need to constantly remind myself to scale back immediate expectations. We are feeding into the type, and will continue to focus on building a product that serves our users and adds value society.

What are you doing to not feed into the hype?

This post was originally posted at SoJo’s blog

Photo credit: Chris Frewin on Flickr.

About the guest blogger: Kanika Gupta is the Founder and Chief Catalyst at SoJo, an early-stage startup that works at the intersection of technology, social change and online education. SoJo is developing online learning tools guiding social innovators. Kanika worked with UN Development Programme in Knowledge Management, Canadian International Development Agency in Human Rights policy, grassroots NGOs in West Africa and India. Follow her on Twitter at @_kanika.