Kevin Rose’s start-up factory model will not work for you

There’s a great story on Wired about how several accomplished entrepreneurs are doing “start-up factories,” which really just means experimenting with ideas until something hits. Kevin Rose of Digg fame, for example, has a goal of creating one new app every three months. If the app doesn’t take off, he moves on to the next one. If it does, he doubles down on it.

This was in fact the same model that my co-founder and I started with, and feecha was our first product. feecha did see some traction early, so we doubled down. The second iteration unfortunately was a disaster — it took nearly a year to launch and it was too confusing — but that’s a post-mortem for another day. We’re already working on our next thing.

After three years of the start-up factory model, I’ve come to the conclusion that it only works for “known” entrepreneurs. I.e., entrepreneurs with a large following and friends in the media. When they make something, there’s enough initial curiosity that a sufficient number of people will try it. There will always be data to judge the product by.

When you’re unknown, no one really cares about your app, and it takes tremendous effort to get it off the ground. Reaching that first 100,000 downloads is so hard — it’s often just as hard as creating the app itself. But without data, it’s difficult to tell whether something is working.

One of the hardest things in entrepreneurship is knowing when to quit and when to persevere. Having enough data is key to making the correct decision, and to have data you need to have some users. Fame will get you the initial awareness you need.

So if you’re thinking about also doing the start-up factory model, ask yourself…are you famous?

Because if you’re not, think about pursuing another model.

If you are, maybe you’re one of these guys:

Just last month, Zynga founder Mark Pincus unveiled Superlabs, a new project that he said would allow him to “launch products, experiment, try stuff, and be ready to look stupid.” In March, Uber co-founder Garrett Camp raised $50 million for a similar project called Expa, which he runs with help from Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai. And a few months later Digg co-founder Kevin Rose announced he was stepping down from his full-time gig at Google Ventures to launch his second startup studio, North Technologies. Rose sold his first, Milk Inc., to Google back in 2012 as a talent acquisition.

There’s also PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s HVF Labs, Twitter co-founder Ev Williams’ Obvious Corp, former MySpace CEO Mike Jones’s Science Inc., serial entrepreneur John Borthwick’s Betaworks, and Vimeo co-founder Jake Lodwick’s Elepath. The list goes on.

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