Three golden rules of success

[Editor's note: We asked Igor Shoifot for the ingredients to success in today's brutal Web 2.0 world. His photo-sharing site, Fotki.com, is profitable and continues to grow, despite taking no venture capital, and even as "thousands" of competing sites have come and gone.]

“If A is a success, then A equals x plus y plus z where work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.” (Albert Einstein)

For several years, I’ve been watching numerous new media sites woosh from a proof of concept cradle right into the shining VC term-sheet wrapper. My first reaction was “they (the investors and the investees) know something mysterious that I don’t.” But seeing most of these well-funded companies stall and struggle, even as my own (not funded) company thrives, makes people like me write pieces like this one.

That may sound haughty, but here are some humble Musings 2.0. I’m running a profitable, independent digital media site outgrowing numerous well-heeled competitors. No claims of esoteric wisdom are made herein but it seems to me that if one is to apply these as a measuring stick, one will easily see the reasons for a specific company’s success/failure.

No silver bullets. But here are some golden rules…

1. Work: get customers by resolving real pains, listen to them, create what they really want/enjoy, more importantly – co-create with them, address technological issues of scalable growth, build multiple revenue streams, greedily capture the key distribution channels by being valuable to the channels, incentivize, put low cost at the foundation of your growth and assure that growth brings business, not just eyeballs (that is, unless you are in a magnificent “real estate” business a la Youtube/Skype/Myspace).

2. Play: give customers real and compelling reasons to come back, and often, get their creativity going, make them enjoy (better: compete) expressing themselves, turn them into your best marketers by honestly serving them better than anyone and by passing as much value onto them as you can (or even more!), build viral growth mechanisms (and, no, incessant daily emails reminding your users to buy something are not a viral growth channel).

3. Shut up: If you really-really want to succeed for sure, then forget about everything else in life and concentrate on what you’re building, that is, yes – on #1 (working) and #2 (playing). And, most importantly: never, under no circumstances, write ridiculous bombastic articles with titles like “Three Golden Rules”!

The truth is, nobody digging in the digital sandbox really knows what the golden rules of success in new media are (granted, those with the biggest shovels have better chances to dig out a Youtube, a Skype or a Paypal and to find/found a wonderful castle worth much more than the golden sand spent on and around it).

There are really no silver bullets as far as the success of an Internet start-up is concerned – what works magically for one situation fails in another, and those entrepreneurs/investors with most trophies on their fireplace mantles usually have more horror stories of their own to hide or tell than anybody else.

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