Published: 10 years ago

Fred Wilson’s 10 golden principle for successful startups (FOWA)

I took some notes this year at FOWA, and I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned or found valuable at FOWA (Future of Web Apps). This first post is about what I learned from Fred Wilson‘s presentation. Wilson is the co-founder of Union Square Ventures, a smaller ($125 million in capital under management), newly formed, New York City based venture capital firm with investments in Web 2.0 companies such as Twitter,, Etsy, FeedBurner,, Disqus, Clickable and many others. In his presentation he highlighted ten points he finds critical for being a successful startup.

Speed: this is a critical factor for growth. Applications that aren’t fast don’t grow as fast as applications with better speed performances.

Instant Utility: your application has to be useful out of the box. Let the user see an immediate return for using your application.

Voice: you need to have a style, a personality. People need to feel like they are consuming a media.  Just look at the way Wufoo communicates with their users, with very fun unusual messages.

Less is more: Your application has to be simple. Try to focus on one thing and do it very well.  You can always add more features later. This helps speed as well.

Programmable: make it easy for other people to plug or build on top of your application. Your API should always be read/write. This is the reason why we integrated SquarePik with Foursquare only, and not Gowalla. Gowalla has a read-only API, making the applications built on it virtually useless.

Personal: make the experience feel personal. Even little things like avatars or personal profiles make users feel like they own part of the application. Think about how your perception of your Facebook page changed since they changed its URL from a number to your username. Now it’s not just a page in their system, it’s your personal page.

Restful: Fred used this term in a personal and incorrect way by his own admission. He thinks the entire application should have an easy URL system. You should be able to reach any page of your app via URL. That makes it easy to share and send to other people.

Discoverable: people need to be able to be find your application, via SEO or social media. At the end of the presentation, he also recommended the use of guerrilla marketing because of its cost effectiveness.

Clean: use big spaces, big fonts and don’t add too many functions on a page. It has to be very clear at any time what the user should do.

Playful: the ability to play in an application is very important. The game element can help the success of an application. Foursquare and Gowalla are really good examples of this. Even something as simple as a top contributor chart could be seen as a game.

What other things do you think are key for the success of a web application?

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