There are only a handful of investors who are so well-known that they can draw a crowd of 500. Fred Wilson is one of those investors. As a VC and principal of Union Square Ventures, Fred has invested in Web 2.0 success stories including Disqus and Etsy. He’s also a prominent blogger, sharing his thoughts on entrepreneurship and the investment landscape on his A VC blog. Yesterday Fred made the trip from New York City to Toronto to present to a theatre packed full of entrepreneurs at Democamp. The topic of his talk was Ten Golden Principles for Building Successful Web Apps – an appropriate subject for the audience of web startups and tech entrepreneurs.
Here’s a recap of Fred’s must-haves for building successful web apps:
1. Speed - Your app must be fast.
2. Instant utility – You can’t have people do a ton of work before they can use your app.
3. Voice – Fred says software is becoming media because the experience we have with it feels like the experience we have with newspapers, magazines, etc. He says media has always had a voice, and your app needs a voice as well. He says the best voice you can give it is your own voice, to make it feel like you adding that “there’s a reason that Craigslist is Craig.”
4. Less is more - He says that instead of adding features, you should take them out. If you have problems simplify them. Let the users find the features, don’t throw them all in people’s faces.
5. Programmable – Build a platform that other people can enhance, and make sure to open your API. This turns developers into evangelists for your application.
6. Make it personal – You are part of the web app, but everyone can be part of the web app. This means not just providing profiles, but making them engaging and fun and happy. Make sure that everybody’s version of your web service is unique.
7. RESTful – Fred says your URLs are central to the REST (Representational State Transfer) approach. He says every resource on your site needs to have a URL and ones that people can understand.
8. Discoverable - Pay attention to SEO, because Google is still important. Also work on SEM if you can afford it. Search drives a lot of traffic, but he also advises people to get social. Make your app social, make it so that people can share their experiences out into the social web. Build things in your app that makes it more discoverable.
9. Clean – It doesn’t have to be white, it doesn’t have to be sparse, but it has to be clean. He says it’s hard to describe what a clean website looks like – it doesn’t try to do too much, it’s easy on the eye, the colours aren’t garish, you don't have a panic attack when you see it.
10. Playful - Fred illustrated this point by showing a slide of where the idea for Twitter was conceived, on a slide in a park. He says game dynamics and play are so important on the web today, and a good example of that is Foursquare.
After Fred’s presentation he took questions from the audience on everything from the biggest trend he sees online (globalization) to his advice for finding startup employees. He even stuck around to see the startup demos, including Startup Weekend Toronto winner Task Ave. – he said their insight around location-based alerting was fantastic and added that he thinks they’re really on to something. High praise from someone who’s been investing in startups since 1986. Wilson promised he would be back to Toronto, and compared the city’s startup scene to the one he’s immersed in in NYC. For entrepreneurs who didn’t get to chat with Fred, he said he’s available via e-mail – or the next time he makes the trip north.
Photo courtesy goldmoneymnews on Flickr.