Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seth Godin: How often should you publish?

Is it too self-referential to post a blog entry about someone else's blog entry about how often to write a blog entry? I dunno. But Seth Godin is a great writer, so I don't see why I can't crib from him whenever. His post is ostensibly about how often to release new work (whether you're a blog writer, movie star, software team...) but it's really about how to manage your effort between what he calls the frontlist and backlist. Here's my favorite part:

If you've got a team, part of the team should obsess about the backlist, honing it, editing it and promoting it, while the rest work to generate (as opposed to promote) the frontlist.

The opportunity isn't to give into temptation and figure out how to recklessly and expensively market the frontlist. It is to adopt a long and slow and ultimately profitable strategy of marketing your ever-growing backlist.

I see startups struggle with this all the time. Life is so easy in the days before the "launch" - you just focus on building and polishing those new features. But then what? You have customers, they are using your product, and you are trying to help them. But you're also trying to build and polish new features. And fix the ones from before. And polish them more. And maybe even learn something along the way.

My career has been full of "student body right" moments, where the whole team is suddenly forced to change direction. Often, it's just a reaction to a deficit of frontlist or backlist work. The leadership art is to balance the needs of the present with the needs of the future. Seth's post doesn't tell us how to do that, but he at least clues us in to this essential idea: that we have to make sure to do it at all. I wish he'd mentioned it a little sooner...

Update: bonus thought from Dharmesh Shah's 8 Startup Insights Inspired By The Mega Mind of Seth Godin:

6. Beware The Need for Critical Mass

I’m going to lead with a quote from Seth on this one: “Failing for small audiences is a loud cue that you will fail even bigger with big audiences.” Too often, startup founders talk about how they are pushing to get to “critical mass” and how “economies of scale” are going to kick in. That’s all fine and dandy. I get it. I’ve been in the software industry for a long time. But, is it absolutely, positively necessary to get to some “critical mass” before your business starts to make any sense at all? Is that mass all that critical? Does it have to be?

Can’t you make some kind of business out of something that looks a bit like this:

Mass You Have < The Magical Mass That Is Critical

Why do so many startups have these mythical, magical numbers (“once we hit 1,000,000, users rainbows are going to spontaneously pop out of nowhere and magic fairy dust will fall out of the sky and make our financials look sooo much better”).


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