Business

Want to go big in social? Don’t be Facebook, Jr.

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This sponsored post is produced by Chris Hulls, the cofounder and CEO of Life360. 

Social networks get a lot of attention in the Valley. As lucrative as these network driven businesses are when they succeed, they are perhaps the hardest to pull off.  It is a sobering truth that few social apps have meaningful traction three years after launch.

I’ve had dozens of entrepreneurs ask me for advice about how they can be part of that elusive group that gets critical mass.  Most find my feedback disappointing – I really don’t know what the secret sauce is that makes some succeed and others fail.  But, one thing I do know is that entrepreneurs would be well served by looking beyond the Facebook formula, and search for use cases that many wouldn’t consider social at all.

What do I mean by this?  If you look at most new networking services you’ll find they follow a familiar theme of newsfeeds and photos delivering an experience centered around fun and entertainment.  Much of what they do is already served by the existing social behemoths, and as a result, it is nearly impossible for them to get the scale needed to succeed.

A good example of this is the many angel and VC-backed apps that have attempted to build Facebooks for the family.  They have correctly identified that there is a pain point around sharing for intimate groups, but to date, all have failed because the differentiation between them and Facebook isn’t enough for people to make the switch.  It is the same phenomena that has let Craigslist survive on its terrible 90’s interface for so long – a better product isn’t enough to unseat a behemoth if your value proposition is at all similar to the incumbent.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  If you look at many recent networking breakouts, they have had success because they don’t look like existing social networks at all.  Take Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network.  Instead of being about fun and sharing, they focused on what many might call the relatively boring day-to-day life of living in a neighborhood, like local news, crime and safety, and yard sales.  As a result, they are used by 1 out of every 6 neighborhoods in the country, and have raised over $100 million in venture capital.

My own company, Life360, has also seen much success by focusing on day-to-day utility.

Instead of building our service around features like private photo sharing that could be served (albeit poorly) by Facebook, we started with location sharing.  It sounds dull, but the “where are you” text is the most common SMS in the world, and there is no way you can use existing services to solve this major pain point.  Now that we have our own huge network of more than 30 million families, we actually do plan on making our product more traditionally social, but the key takeaway to our success is that our initial core value proposition for our users was highly differentiated.

With life moving to the phone, and the line between the real and digital worlds rapidly blurring, I can guarantee that new multi-billion dollar social networks will emerge.  What they will be, I really can’t say, but I do know that they won’t look at all like the networks of the past.

So please, don’t build another Facebook.


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