The Wikipedia Effect

A popular strategy for bootstrapping products is what I like to call the Wikipedia Effect. Wikipedia didn’t set out to build an entire encyclopedia by themselves — they knew their comparative advantage was not in knowing all of the information in the world. Rather, individuals all over the world would likely have more knowledge about topics spanning zoo archaeology to Dostoevsky than a single company ever would. The Wikipedia Effect is identifying what people are good at, and leveraging their strengths to create value.

This strategy is difficult to internalize, because in order to execute the strategy effectively, we have to recognize our weaknesses, and humans typically have defensive, emotional reactions — ego barriers — that stand in the way of progress. Those who get over the ego barrier, might be prone to an engineer’s mindset — wanting to understand and implement every piece of the puzzle, instead of outsourcing their weaknesses to another party.

My friend P is currently working on his next venture. P doesn’t have a software background, and instead of spending a year learning programming, he quickly recognized what he was good at, what he was not good at, and hired a product manager and two engineers as contractors. He built the product in 6 months and already has several customers.

The Wikipedia Effect isn’t the only way to build a company. Some people go to coding bootcamps, learn how to build the thing themselves, build the thing, and then earn customers and revenue. This path, however, is harder and requires more time and effort.

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