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Fred Wilson

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Users First, Brands Second

Posted: 08/25/11 12:39 PM ET

I like simple ways to think about things. Like mobile first, web second. These kinds of constructs work for me. One that I've been using a lot lately to describe what we like and don't like as much is User First, Brands Second.

When you are building your product and thinking about your go to market strategy, you need to decide who your first users will be and how they will take your product into the market. You can focus on getting everyday internet users first. Or you can focus on getting brands first and working with them to get users. This decision is critical and will impact almost everything about your business going forward. So don't make this decision lightly.

There are some great businesses that have gone with the Brands First, Users Second approach. Two that come to mind are Groupon and Buddy Media. They are very different businesses but both go first to brands, work with them to craft offerings for users, and then work to get those offerings in the hands of users.

Contrast that with Foursquare. The Foursquare app launched without any brands on it and went after user adoption directly. Today they have over 10mm registered users. Millions of users engaged on the Foursquare service attracts brands. And the brands come to Foursquare without much effort on Foursquare's part. This is the User First, Brand Second approach.

Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are all User First, Brands Second services. The brands are all over these services now. But for the most part, these services didn't do much to bring them. The engaged users did.

Our firm vastly prefers the Users First, Brands Second approach. I don't want to say definitively that we would not invest in a Brands First, Users Second business, but it would have to be something very interesting to get us to do it.

We do have several portfolio companies that took some version of a Brands First, Users Second approach to market. WorkMarket brings large employers and staffing firms onto their platform who put work orders into their system. That brings workers who pick up the work and get paid via the Workmarket platform. SoundCloud initially targeted audio content creators who put their work on the SoundCloud platform and according to Quantcast, that audio content brings over 14mm people a month to the service. But in both cases, these services launched day one with a valuable offering to both brands and users and they were not crafted specifically for the brand's benefit. That is a key point to be focused on.

The biggest problem with a Brands First, Users Second approach is you can get caught up in product development efforts to satisfy the brands and as a result you can't put enough energy into satisfying the users. And if that happens too much, you end up servicing the needs of the brands over the needs of the users and then you are a service business not a platform.

So when thinking about whether or not your company is a good fit for investment by our firm, think about whether your business is User First, Brand Second, or the other way around. That will be one of the first things we focus on when we evaluate it.