On becoming an internet millionaire

Last week, I happened to come across Wired Magazine’s coverage of Ev William’s speech at the XOXO Conference in Portland last month. Ev Williams is most famous as one of the co-founders of Twitter, but prior to that he was behind the blogging platform Blogger, and since then, the blogging network Medium.

Anyway, when I discovered the article “Twitter Founder Reveals Secret Formula for Getting Rich Online”, I was interested to hear what he had to say. I mean, who doesn’t want to know the secret formula for getting rich. And clearly, Ev knows a thing or two about building these kinds of businesses.

Ev says the internet is;

“a giant machine designed to give people what they want”


“those who can tune that engine well — who solve basic human problems with greater speed and simplicity than those who came before — will profit immensely.”

Ok, great start. Tell me more.

“There’s an organizing principle that explains what thrives on the internet and could potentially predict what will thrive in the future: Convenience. The key to making a fortune online, is to remove extra steps from common activities. Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps”.

I find myself nodding in agreement. Convenience is an essential attribute of products, and one that differentiates more successful instances.

I actually prefer the slightly broader term “accessibility” which means “easy to reach, enter, use, or understand“. Convenience is about being easy to “reach” and “use”, but there are other dimensions of accessiblity as well.

Accessibility includes;

  1. Discoverability: How easy it is to find or serendipitously discover the product

  2. Understanding: How easy it is to understand what benefit the product offers, and how it does this

  3. Reach and Trialing: How easy it is to get hold of the product, and ideally trial it before you need to pay. Immediacy is another aspect of this dimension; that is the ability to be able to access the product as immediately as possible. Ebooks are a great example of this: the gap between the intent to buy, and delivery, can almost be measured in seconds.

  4. Buying: How easy it is to buy the product. In digital products we increasingly find the freemium model being utilised to maximise accessibility of purchase. Credit is another mechanism that increases the accessibility of buying a product. Pricing is obviously a critical aspect of the accessibility of buying a product too.

  5. Operating: How easy it is use the product. In digital products this is called “usability”. Apple are a company that often set new benchmarks for usability.

Beyond accessibility however, I believe that there are 2 other attributes that are essential to consider, in building successful products. They are Relevance and Effectiveness.

Relevance is a measure of the “fit” between a person and the product. For platform products, like Youtube, where the product serves to match “need” and “capability”, the relevance is how good the fit is between the need and capability. In an age where more and more information, people and products are vying for our attention, the smarter businesses are those that help in most directly matching the customer’s needs with their solution.

Niche-ification of products is one means of working towards this end. In the car industry for instance, we see brands like BMW expanding their product range, so they more precisely meet the specific needs of their customers. The original 3, 5 and 7 series are now complemented with the 1, 4, 6, and 8 series as well as the new 2 and “i” series. Platform products like Spotify and Amazon are honing their algorithms to better match the content they serve, with the tastes and intentions of their customers.

Effectiveness is the third attribute that successful products, either digital or physical, can leverage to differentiate their offering against competitors. Effectiveness is the oldest of the product attributes on which marketplace battles are fought. Effectiveness is about being “adequate to accomplish a purpose”. In colloquial terms effectiveness is simply being “better”. A better mousetrap. A better experience. And there is always an opportunity to innovate in how a product delivers the benefits it is designed for. Indeed effectiveness, together with purchase accessibility (ie. pricing), are the two most frequently contested product attributes in marketplace battles.

Which brings me back to Ev, and Wired’s report on his speech. Ev says;

“The key to making a fortune online, is to remove extra steps from common activities”

And yes that is true.

And. I think you’ll find it useful to consider the other dimensions of Accessibility I’ve talked about – together with Relevance and Effectiveness – as a pathway to your own online fortune. Hey, good luck with that!