I have been reading about how several successful startups -- Facebook, MySpace, BitTorrent, YouTube, Skype, and HotOrNot -- fueled their early growth that lead to their success.
In all the cases, these startups did things that I probably would not have been willing to do. It makes me wonder how ruthless you have to be to have a successful startup.
Facebook, for example, "had access to the e-mail addresses of Harvard students" and "blasted e-mails to Harvard students to let people know about the site." The site, which allows people to list information about themselves and meet other students, largely seems driven by social interaction, dating, and self-promotion.
Similarly, MySpace "had a database of ~100M e-mail addresses" which they spammed to announce their launch. MySpace is broader than Facebook, but also largely seems driven by social interaction, dating, and self-promotion.
BitTorrent, a P2P filesharing network, launched after "[Bram] Cohen collected a batch of free porn and used it to lure beta testers". The site soon collected "long lists of pirated content" including full length movies and pornographic material.
HotOrNot started as a way to "settle an argument" and soon turned into a popular and lucrative website that is "serving some basic human psychological needs around social validation, ego, and voyeurism" and allows people to "enjoy the voyeuristic aspect of checking people out."
The YouTube founders, when they first launched, "figured the best thing would do would be to get hot chicks involved". Later, they implemented a feature that allowed "one-click emailing to spam a friend about a video." I suspect it is also true that YouTube succeeded where many other video startups failed largely by being less vigilant about purging copyright content and soft porn, all easy to find on the site.
Skype's founders originally created Kazaa, a filesharing network that encouraged illegal trading of copyright content. Skype is a clever iteration from Kazaa. It follows a similar theme of giving away stuff that used to cost money for free, but this time it is legal. Like Kazaa, it uses other people's resources (especially those who are blessed with the privilege of being a supernode) to provide the service.
There seem to be some dismal lessons in these stories. It appears the ideal startup will give away something that used to cost money for free (preferably copyright material and porn), use other people's content and resources, appeal to the baser human instincts (especially vanity and sex), and spam massive e-mail lists at launch.
And this makes me wonder, am I ruthless enough? In Findory Video, for example, the system tries to automatically filter the soft porn that appears quite popular on both YouTube and Google Video. Is that a mistake? Findory has never spammed anyone. Findory keeps well within fair use for copyright material. Findory directs traffic to content providers to help them earn revenue from their work. Are those mistakes?
Is ruthlessness the key to success for Web 2.0 startups? Are you ruthless enough to succeed in the same way these others have done?
Update: Yahoo just acquired Bix, a website that features "hot or not and other contests" and "launched barely three months ago". Yet another example.