Startup micro opportunities


In my first startup, I generally had analysis paralysis. I moved slowly, and hardly ever reacted to things in real time. 

I strictly adhered to what I thought was critical path. I didn't realize that by doing so I was probably passing by countless micro opportunities that could help my startup get traction.

Over the years I've moved completely in the other direction, which is also reflected in my shift from INTP to INTJ (P vs J) on the Myer's Briggs personality test. (Criticisms of the framework aside, I do think this move captured something real.)

Micro opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, but the ones I'm referring to in this post are those with short time windows and horizons. A few recent examples:

1) I try to seek out feedback for my startup in as many ways as possible. But more importantly, I try to react to it as quickly as possible to that feedback. As a result, I've been able to strike up useful conversations while things are fresh in peoples' minds, and equally importantly been able to get many true fans. I love seeing tweets like these.

2) The other day I woke up to a DuckDuckGo themed logo topping reddit. I quickly thought it would be cool if I put up a reddit themed DuckDuckGo logo on DDG. I thought about ways to do it and at the same time sent out a request on the forum. I'm not sure if @markkata saw that request or not, but he made this logo, which I put up on the site and announced on twitter. Someone then submitted it back to reddit, which got voted up. It never made the main front page, but hovered on the 2nd and 3rd for about 36 hours and drove something like 15K users to the site. That's thousands of people who would have never otherwise seen my site.

You might say, well, I can't do that one because I wouldn't get my logo on top of reddit in the first place. But getting there actually arose by seizing a series of earlier micro opportunities. When reddit first announced their ad beta, I jumped at the chance to participate and provided as much feedback as I could. I continued to advertise and engaged actively in the community (both on my ad threads and otherwise). When someone suggested I do an AMA, I did that too. When I found people I thought might be useful to the reddit team, I made introductions. When I had a good experience with reddit ads, I wrote it up on this blog. As a result of all of these interactions, I've gained a lot respect for the reddit team, and I hope visa-versa.

I'm not sure what in there led to the DDG-themed logo on reddit (I wasn't warned or notified), but it hardly matters. The point is that it wasn't planned. It just happened. For the record, I don't think of these things as opportunities to be seized, but more like fun. It happens naturally at this point. 

3) Occasionally I'll write blog posts in reaction to other posts. These are posts I had been meaning to write, but by writing them then I became part of the current conversation and was able to drive many more people to my blog (and more importantly get them to consider my point of view) in context. The most recent examples are my posts entitled False dichotomies in convertible note vs equity seed rounds and Thoughts on Yahoo! BOSS Monetization II.

4) A few months ago I woke up to an article entitled DuckDuckGo Searches Are Not Anonymous at the top of Hacker News. I reacted immediately with a comment (containing a workaround), but immediately knew that I should and could do more. 

I dropped everything and worked to plug the hole, which took a few hours. In so doing, I realized there was an opportunity to go much further. Long story short, I launched a new major privacy feature 48 hours later via my own blog post. That post got voted up on HN and then on Reddit and then got picked up by some bigger blogs and news outlets. All told, I probably got 20K interested people to check out my site as a result, and I now have this feature for the long term. If I had not dove into an immediate response to the first post, I doubt the feature would have ever been created.

Don't get me wrong--I still think staying on critical path is important. Like many others I hate premature optimization and unnecessary tangents. (This is another post, but sometimes it is hard to tell what is tangential and not and what is useful optimization and not.) 

The beauty of micro opportunities, though, is that by definition they don't take that long. So you can stay more-or-less on critical path while still seizing them along the way. 

One could think of them as a competitive advantage (when competing against big companies). There is some truth to that, but I think of them as more of individual opportunities. It's not that if you don't do it someone else will. Instead, they'll just be lost forever.


If you have comments, hit me up on Twitter.
I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.