Human Scale Problems

In all the discussion this week about Google Reader I’ve heard the phrase “Google Scale Problem” tossed around many times. Usually this is in the context of saying how big and difficult RSS aggregation and syncing is, especially when scaling to millions if not billions of users. I find that kind of perspective to be very counterproductive. It carries along with it an implied conceit that it is only worthwhile to solve this problem if you can attract that many users. I believe the opposite.

When I began work on Feed Wrangler a few months ago, I set out with the goal of building a business that was sustainable from its first customer. The choices you make and the way you approach a problem are very different when your goal is to build something ideal for narrow band of people. I’m not trying to make something that fits everyone; instead I want to be opinionated. I want to solve RSS aggregation in a way that might only work for a small, but meaningful number of people. Sure, I build it with a structure and architecture that could scale to millions if required, but it doesn’t need to on Day One.

You can easily build a sustainable business by making a service with a few thousand delighted customers who each pay a monthly subscription fee. This business starts off in a posture that is very responsive and attentive to each of its customers. My goal is to delight my first customer, not my millionth. I’m solving a human scale problem.

When I pre-announced Feed Wrangler earlier this week, I threw up a mailing list sign-up form to collect the contact information for anyone interested in the vision I presented. In the few days that this has been active I’ve had more than double my goal for first year subscribers sign up. While they may not all sign up at launch, it validates my approach. If that were the upper bound for possible growth of the service it would already be a very worthwhile endeavor.

David Smith