internet, start-ups

When You Build A Moat, You’re Just Digging a Big Hole

When you build a moat, you put yourself on an island.

A week or so ago, MessageMe launched their product. I wrote a brief blog post about why First Round loved their product and team. A lot has happened since then. MessageMe has signed up more than a million users who have sent tens of millions of messages, videos and doodles. And the product has been featured in the Apple App Store, Google Play, and *shut off* by Facebook.

One of these things is not like the others.

Facebook’s decision cutoff MessageMe and others has been covered in the press here, here and here. Make no mistake, they are well within their rights to do things like this. But just because Facebook’s decision is within their rights doesn’t make it smart.

It’s interesting to note that while Facebook has decided to shut off MessageMe – presumably to protect Messenger product – Apple has taken a different approach. While MessageMe could be seen as being competitive with iMessage, Apple has recognized that it’s great product and been supportive from Day 1. Far from trying to bury it, de-feature it or hide it, Apple has promoted it. They know that great ecosystems thrive on great products.

This morning I was catching up with one of my partners about this. I told him that it reminded me of discussions I was a part of while I was at Yahoo! about Yahoo! Mail. As far back as 2005, there was a core group of people who wanted to open Mail APIs and allow free IMAP (or even POP) access to alternate email clients. There were more people who felt that opening the email APIs would damage growth and use in the core Mail product. Build a moat, protect the castle. Depending on the day of thee week, the weather, the amount of coffee I drank, etc., my perspective shifted. In retrospect, it’s clear that there was one right decision.

While we were building a moat, Google made a different choice. They built a bridge to their user community and allowed anyone to IMAP their Gmail account.

The rest is history.

3 thoughts on “When You Build A Moat, You’re Just Digging a Big Hole

  1. timcloudspace

    Building artificial moats is bad. Finding natural moats is better.

    Did the “open platform” folks ever make the point that once people sign up for an email account, they’re naturally less likely to change services because of the barriers like: telling everyone about the new address, reconfiguring clients, etc?

    Hooking into natural tendencies is better than forcing behavior change.

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