Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The right people with the wrong idea

A couple of months ago I was hanging around the Y Combinator offices scouting start-ups when Paul Graham introduced me to a guy called Paul Biggar. Paul had this crazy idea about offering a better commenting system for news web sites. A sort of Disqus just for newspapers. I didn't think it was a very good idea, but I offered to help anyway because Paul seemed like the right person with the wrong idea.

I've spent my entire career in technology start-ups (and, briefly, in venture capital) and if there's one thing that's invariant it's that it's better to find the right people with the wrong idea than the wrong people with the right idea. The right people will be able to change their idea to fit the market, the wrong people will rarely capitalize on the right idea.

So it was no surprise to me that Paul came back with a new idea: a news web site built around journalist brands with revenue sharing between the journalist and the web site. Now that seemed like an interesting idea. It's a sort of anti-Economist where the name of the journalist matters more than the brand of the overall site. I said I'd help and emailed journalist and writer friends to get them to look into it. I also sat down over the Easter weekend and wrote three articles for the future web site.

Yesterday, the resulting web site called NewsTilt went live. My three stories are:

Ode to the Number 11 bus.

If you're visiting London, stop before you spend £50 ($76) on a sightseeing tour and consider taking a bus used by Londoners to get to work. It might not sound like the best idea for an out of town visitor, but at £1.20 ($1.80) per person a trip along the 7 miles of the number 11 bus route will let you see the sights in true London double-decker bus style.

Long haul heaven

For many people the thought of a long haul flight is enough to fill them with dread and loathing. They loathe the indignities of airport security, the stale food and staler air, the cramped seats and cramped conversation. But I love a good long haul from London to San Francisco, or Miama to Buenos Aires. I love it because when I step onto a 747, an L-1011 or an A340, I'm entering my mile-high monastery.

The missing element in travel: science

Many people wouldn't consider wrapping their head around some science to be an ideal way to spend a holiday. But science and enjoyment aren't incompatible. Here are seven ideas to get you out and about, and make you think.


Dan said...

While I agree with your sentiment -- strongly in fact -- that the right people with the wrong idea are better to get to a startup win, I do need to question your rating of Paul's original idea as the wrong idea. Recently, several news sites have been thinking about comments, especially anonymous comments. See for instance. There are a lot of potential solutions to this problem, but I wonder if Paul's idea of a "Discus just for newspapers" could have been white-labeled to all of them at the moment. Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking for at least a couple years that there is an opportunity around blog comments. Basically a lot of the action and interest in blogs is in the comments and in the chat-like forum-like dimensions of that. How do we better enable that? Now, it is basically hard for people to monitor when new comments are added, the order of reading is not reversible, etc. We need to try to allow the good features of both blogs and forums more.

Likr even right now, to comment, I have to go log into some account that I created on Livejournal or Wordpress. If this were a forum, I would be cookied in. GRRR!!!

And why the heck do I need to BOTH have an account and be moderated! There is some opportunity here...this is really hard to get my damn comment in. I'm opening windows, clicking back and forth. What a pain in the ass.

I like his first idea better than his second.

BTW, you may be right about right person, versus right idea...but right idea is pretty important. I would say crucial with physical inventions. In fact, feasibility and cost become very important. Lots of money can be wasted on pushing something that sounds cool or even has a huge market, but physical feasibility is under-rated. I have lived this...