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James Currier has been developing digital products and businesses since 1991 when he worked at GTE New Ventures in Hollywood. In 1993, he went to STAR TV the satellite television broadcaster based in Hong Kong and to Beijing to study at the Beijing School of Economics. He then back to the US to Battery Ventures in Boston in 1994 as an Associate. 

In 1999, he started the social media network Tickle, which was originally named Emode. They got profitable, survived the crash, and grew it to $38 million in revenue and nearly 200M registered users. Tickle was sold to Monster in May 2004.

In early 2007, he started Ooga Labs as a tech company greenhouse with Stan Chudnovsky and some of the team from Tickle. In 2008, they spun out WonderHill, a casual games company. WonderHill's big hit was Dragons of Atlantis. Wonderhill grew to $60M in revenue and merged with Kabam in 2010.

In Dec 2010, Ooga spun out Jiff, a secure network and marketplace for connecting the mobile health ecosystem to the heath care industry. In 2012, Ooga spun out IronPearl to build software tools and methodologies to create growth for networks and marketplaces.

In 2015, the Ooga team formalized their advising and investing by creating NFX Guild. NFX is a  calendar based program for networks and marketplaces -- companies with network effects. 

You can follow James on Twitter: @jamescurrier

  • AB

    Andrew Bridgeman

    almost 5 years ago #

    Thank you for doing this, James!

    What do you think about marketing plans for startups? I know that some people think that a full-blown marketing plan is unnecessary at the early stages - what is your opinion?

    Second question (related to the first) - what were the first things you did when started Tickle and Ooga? That is, how did you set up the groundwork for their eventual success?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I think full blown marketing plans are unnecessary for small startups. I think startups should look at the landscape of distribution channels and pick one and focus on it. They should actively avoid a full marketing plan because creating those plans draws them away from the simplicity that typically makes start ups take off.

      The thinking that goes into a plan, however, is really valuable. Like that American General Schwartzkopf (sp?) said something like, "We plan everything to the last detail and put it in binders, then as soon as the war starts we throw out the binders. We just take our knowledge onto the field with us." Then it's tactics from there.

      Unfortunately, a startup doesn't have the resources to do the binders. So do the thinking with out the binders and the pageantry of a full marketing plan.

      We have a saying which is "There is no strategy, only tactics." Strategy is for keeping the board calm. Strategy is what you tell the press after you've won. My experience is it's generally tactics that wins. We don't spend a ton of time on strategy, in the traditional sense...

      9 Share
      • SE

        Sean Ellis

        almost 5 years ago #

        Interesting, I thought I was the only one who didn't place much value on strategy :)

        • SW

          Samuel Woods

          almost 5 years ago #

          I only place value on strategies that makes tactics effective ;)

          Throwing spaghetti on a wall to see what sticks only works for a short time.

          But, a good strategy is a multiplier.

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      In terms of how did we set up the companies for success... honestly, we just started them. And we iterated as we went, with different people, different tactics, different ideas. We had a bunch of ideas, most of which were wrong, and just enough of which were right. We had many, many failures and just enough successes.

      I guess the thing we did right is decide never to give up.

      One thing I tell my teams is "There is much less going on in this world than meets the eye." By that I mean, there is no secret sauce. You can do it, too. There's nothing you don't have.

  • TM

    Taylor Miles

    almost 5 years ago #

    Wow you have been around the startup space for longer than most. What is the next Big Frontier, the next big opportunity? Bitcoin, Crypto, Big Data, Mobile Deep Linking, Home Automation?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      Oh man. I don't really know right now! I'm continuing to bet that building networks and things with network effects will produce the next big companies. I can see some "internet of things" companies bringing more network thinking into their products and becoming huge (like iOS did), and I can see money/financial really transforming over the next 10 years. I don't know if it's bitcoin or not (I own bitcoin and I'm an investor in Xapo, but who knows). I'd like to believe! The transformation of money would be so meaningful to the least wealthy 50% of the planet.

      I'm generally a big data skeptic. It's too long to go into, but I did big data back in 2000-2007 and we found it hard. I think there will be special cases like Palantir where you can make a huge business out of that work, but when startups say "we'll have all this data and it's really valuable, obviously." I tend to think "Is it really valuable? How? How do you get someone to pay for that? How do you use it specifically to make more money?' It's harder than people think. I think.

      4 Share
  • TS

    Terence Strong

    almost 5 years ago #

    What do you do when you have found one paid channel to scale but the channel has rising costs?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      First, realize this is not uncommon. Second, I would say, never let your team get confused that you have a channel forever or that you even have a stable business. :-) Lay out all your channel options, and get to work on #2. Then Keep optimizing that #1 channel better than other buyers on that channel, ride it up pretty close to break even, then quit.

      Keep evolving your core product to create/capture more value.

      But the long term vision has to be to spend $0 on advertising. :-) Keep evolving your product and proposition with that in mind.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 5 years ago #

    At Le Web (https://growthhackers.com/videos/video-unlocking-the-secrets-of-growth-in-20-minutes-by-james-currier/ min 6:53) you suggested that "there are more ways of growing that people have missed in the last 24 months than there are ways that people have grabbed and made use of." Do you still believe this is the case? If so, what's the best way of staying on top of emerging opportunities?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I do still believe this is true. As I've said elsewhere, the owners of the growth channels are systematically closing them off, feature by feature, release by release.

      However, every year there are more people online, spending more time, and now bringing their smartphone devices with them into the social sphere (laptops and desktops much less in the social sphere). If you find something they want, and build some features for spreading it between them, each year that goes by, it's getting easier you will find an audience.

      The other growth channel that people don't think about is language. Choose the right language and name for your product and growth is always possible. Next year, someone will do something hyper-viral, and we'll look back and realize someone could have done it in 2014, but no one thought of it. No one grabbed the words. The words are sitting out there for us to use regardless of how much the channels close themselves off.

      The best way to stay on top of emerging opportunities is to 1) play with new channels yourself, 2) have a program of experimentation in your organization, and 3) read GH.com!

      3 Share
  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    almost 5 years ago #

    James - It's great to have you doing the AMA. I've loved all of your articles and talks on growth.

    In your recent TechCrunch post 'From Social Networks to Market Networks' you talk about how a market network often starts by enhancing a network of professionals that exists offline.

    Do you think a market network can also start from a network of professionals that exists online? For example would you consider GitHub a market network and if so, why or why not?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I absolutely think market networks will form from professionals with online-only relationships! In the near future, we are going to see market networks in places we can't imagine today.

      GitHub has many elements of a Market Network. And as I've said before, if they chose to go down that road more, they could, and it would be awesome. But it's often the case that such companies have other things that are higher priority that are hard for those of us on the outside to see.

      Maybe you should start a pure market network for that community and have it ride on top of GitHub...

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hi Jason!

  • AF

    Anthony Franco

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi James, this is Anthony from the Ooga Labs/WonderHill days. Great to see you on here. I wanted to ask you, what are your favorite examples of B2B applications that leveraged network effects to grow?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hi Anthony!

      I want to be clear about something. A network effect is separate from viral growth. They are two different concepts. Network effect is about defensibility and value. Those are independent from the idea of viral growth. For instance, you could have a network effect business which has a viral factor of 0.0 and acquires all of its users through paid acquisition.

      That being said, if we are looking for good B2B examples of network effects, my favorite examples are the true pioneers. The Sabre System for airline reservations in 1974, and Bloomberg for bond trading in 1984. I was a child when these were happening, but I've studied them, and they were the ones first discovering the patterns. So they would be informative as case studies.

      I love Remind 101 in the education space.

      Salesforce (both their direct nfx and their platform nfx) , Dropbox.

      There aren't a huge number today, as most B2B companies establish defensibility with what I call "embedding." But there are a ton coming. I know of many that were founded in the last 24 months that have been funded but not discussed much.

      It's a big trend. I'm a big fan of B2B with nfx in them. I hope you're building one!

      2 Share
  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 5 years ago #

    Any recommendations for validating product/market fit in a network effect business? How is this different compared to a standard product where value does not increase as you add more users?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      There are lots of answers to this. If I had to point to one, it would be to look at the messaging volume between nodes. It's the network density and activity among the people in the multi-player game you've built that determines value and market fit. Not true of typical single-player approaches or typical SaaS products.

      4 Share
  • RB

    Raphaela Brandner

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi James,
    Our growth team at MeisterLabs has been following you for a while and we've already learned a lot from your articles and talks. Thanks a lot for sharing such great advice!

    One thing we're still struggling with are the names of our products, and since you've previously talked about how important names are, we were hoping you might have some feedback for us.

    We were always pretty happy with the name of our flagship product, the online mind mapping tool 'MindMeister'. We wanted to stick to this naming scheme and thus called our new task management tool 'MeisterTask'. However, we're not actually happy with the name and we somehow can't see the 'MindMeister-MeisterTask tool suite' taking over the world, if you know what I mean.

    What do you think? Should we rename MeisterTask? And if so, would we have to rename MindMeister too?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      Great and important question. I DO think naming is stunningly important. I gave my first company a crappy name, and when I learned how to create a good name and then renamed the company, I watched traffic and revenues increased 30% in 4 weeks and the value of the company increased 100% in 5 months.

      So, yes, I'm a believer. I worked with http://www.igorinternational.com/ to learn about naming. They were great.

      I can't tell you about your particular name, however. Sorry!

  • MD

    Marcel Dawson

    almost 5 years ago #

    If social networks (public to public) were the last 10 years and market networks (industry to public) are the next 10 years, where do B2B market networks (industry to industry) fit in? As in, most examples of market networks provide solutions to the general public... are there any examples of market networks that cater only to industry-insiders? If so, do the same network-effect rules apply to these B2B startups?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      There are lots of flavors in there, right? With Honeybook, you have event planners as one of the important nodes. Are these individuals, working out of their homes and cars "industry" or "B2B?" Hard to say.

      So yes, I think you will see all sorts of market networks, including pure industry to industry insiders. Bloomberg and Ariba have show that possible.

      The major issue for those companies is sales cycle. The decision time for me to join Facebook is 5 seconds. The decision time for an event planner to decide to join Honeybook, as an independent operator, is maybe 5 minutes to 5 days.

      Unfortunately, the decision for a company of over 50 people to decide to stop transacting the old way and establish a node or multiple nodes on a new N-sided market network and start transacting a whole new way... can be 5 weeks, 5 months or even 5 years.

      So if you're doing one of these businesses, I've seen that lowering that sales cycle time will be key.

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    almost 5 years ago #

    What books/blogs/resources do you recommend for people who are scaling e-commerce companies?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I'm not a huge fan of ecommerce companies. Seems to me they either make nice small profitable businesses, or, except for Amazon and Zulilly, they make huge flameouts in their attempts to be big. No?

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi James - so excited for this AMA!

    In your 'Market Networks" post, you said: "You can imagine a market network for every industry where professionals are not interchangeable: law, travel, real estate, media production...."

    I'd like to focus on the travel vertical for my questions
    From your statement, I infer that you do not believe a market network exists in the travel space.
    If that is correct, why do you think one doesn't exist yet?
    In your view, what are the biggest roadblocks that might need to be overcome for a travel market network to become reality?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I do not believe there is a travel market network yet.

      It doesn't exist because no one has built it yet.

      One roadblock is that investors generally hate the travel space, so it's hard to get funding.

      The other roadblock is these are hard products to build. You have to build in one product what in 2010 would have been considered three separate companies, and you have to do all three of them excellently: SaaS workflow, networking, marketplace and transactions. Needs a really good team.

  • GP

    Gabor Papp

    almost 5 years ago #

    James,

    Not sure if you remember it, but we were mentoring together a few years back at TechPeaks in Trento, Italy. Was definitely fun.

    My question: you mentioned before that there are only a certain number of ways you can monetize. Can you elaborate on these monetization tactics? What's the "color palette" here?

    Can you suggest some readings (blogs, books) that go deeper into the topic?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hi Gabor!

      There are actually quite a few ways to monetize. But the key is to realize it's a finite number. Once you realize it's finite, and you write down as many as you can think of, it makes your decisions easier and clearer. And you and your team can have more rational debates about which way to go.

      In terms of readings, yikes, no I don't have an outside source for that sort of list.

  • LK

    Linday Kellerman

    almost 5 years ago #

    What do you think the most unexpected thing about the next generation of technology will be?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      It won't be very different from what we have now. I suspect 20 years from now will be very different. But it feels to me, and this is just speculation, that the next 10 years, the next generation, will be more of the same.

  • JB

    John Bateman

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi James, do you think there are still opportunities to grow communities for people with common health issues or do you think that boat has sailed?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I don't think ANY boat has truly sailed away! Coming at an old market at a totally different angle can bust that market wide open or even create a new market.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 5 years ago #

    If I read between the lines, then the future success of marketplaces is (also) going to depend on providing the entire infrastructure that enables the "producers" to have a stable/reliable alternative to currently available jobs.

    I believe we're already seeing this tension with say, Uber not recognizing it's drivers as full-fledged employees,

    If that is correct, do you believe an opportunity exists for 3rd parties to sweep in and provide that layer of security that the supply side needs? Or is this something that the marketplaces themselves will (have to) get on board with and kill any such ancillary layers?

    • JC

      James Currier

      almost 5 years ago #

      I think there could be a giant third party provider in that space, but you would have to go now, and you'd have to be excellent with the product and service, so that most of the labor marketplaces wouldn't be able to match you.

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