The Secret of Success: Forget the Everyday Compromises

The Secret of Success: Forget the Everyday Compromises

The Secret of Success: Forget the Everyday Compromises

Between my last post and this one, I won a prize (first prize, in fact, in a video competition sponsored by the Israel Film and TV Producers Association and YouTube), and as part of the prize I traveled to London – so my apologies for the delay. And now I’ll finish, briefly, my long story about how I invented e-mail. Maybe.

Electronic mail predates the internet, and its designers did not predict most of the uses that we would make of it. In the eyes of a systems analyst, we can see in it the dubious compromises that lead to a product that is not as good as snail-mail (for example, the lack of confirmation of receipt – that’s the only reason that registered mail still exists!); the inability to include an image (today there is still no standard for including a picture in the body of the text), video and sound; the inability to transfer funds; the difficulty in following a series of communications (threads); the difficulty in sending an e-mail to a group (it’s true that, to the naive user, this is not a problem – but a product manager could write a whole article on the nightmare limitations of this feature). And worst of all: e-mail is something that could change your life for the better, but when it doesn’t work (for example, it doesn’t arrive) or causes destructive results, it gives no warning.

And yet, we have gotten used to all these problems, and have learned to accept them as “part of life.” Now, I would argue: people also accepted darkness as part of life, until Edison came along. In the same way, having to wait till your photographs were developed was accepted as part of life, until Edwin Land (the founder of Polaroid) came along. In both cases, the technical solution came later, and not easily. The rare thing that successful entrepreneurs have is not the solution – but the ability to look at our everyday world through fresh eyes, to forget that we have become used to compromises – and to ask whether it is possible to do things differently.

Now, why I am going on about the negative aspects of e-mail? Not to demonstrate my ability as an analyst – but to awaken you to an understanding that these things are under our very noses. More than that – there is no need to wait for a flash of inspiration to see reality – you can certainly rely on systematic thinking (in fact, I would recommend it). What do people need? What problems do people encounter? Solve problems that bother people – and they will pay you good money for your solution. Solve a really bothersome problem, and you won’t hear anyone claiming that “on the internet we have gotten used to having everything for free.”

The first step is to stick to the facts. When I gave my “What’s Wrong with E-mail” workshop for the first time, in 2006, the entrepreneurs there thought that Gmail had already conquered the e-mail market. It may have seemed so to the entrepreneurs (who are not used to sticking to the facts), but in reality Gmail’s market share was only about 30%. It wasn’t even the most widespread service. It is only about a year and a half ago (at the end of 2012) that Gmail finally claimed to have beaten Hotmail, and to be the leading electronic mail service.

In 2006, it appeared that there was nothing more to invent in e-mail. But since that first workshop that I gave on the subject, a number of startups have popped up, all of them trying to fix some feature or other of modern e-mail. Let me mention a few:

• Xobni, acquired by Yahoo! in 2013 for 48 million dollars;

• Rapportive, sold to LinkedIn in 2012 for 15 million dollars;

• Boomerang for Gmail, which reached one million downloads in 2012;

• And the Israeli Wisestamp, whose service has been used half a million times so far – and is no longer free.

I have a lot to say about these, and it would give me great pleasure to do so, because all of them have made a flourishing career out of Gmail’s problems – but there would not be enough room for a proper treatment of them. I should also mention a number of projects whose aim was to find an alternative to e-mail itself: Google Wave, which ultimately made a contribution to Google+. Systematically thinking about what could solve the problem of spam also led Facebook to develop a product that answers that problem. If spam is defined as mail from someone whom you don’t know, then is mail from only people you know going to be a winner? At Facebook, they thought so, and that the ultimate solution to spam was something sexy. They connected their message system to e-mail, although afterwards they suspended the project and took a step backwards. But don’t ask yourselves where the product is today – ask where the people are who led it.

Okay, enough with my inventions. Another time, I’ll talk about how I invented Twitter, but in the meantime, things are happening in the world of animation and information that are much more interesting.

P.S. What about Diesel? Not the clothing brand, and not the wrestler – the engine. Many years after the invention of the gasoline engine, when there was “nothing more to invent,” someone invented the diesel engine. Today, every truck in the world is powered by a diesel engine. Still bored? Well, I tried.