Mainstream Isn’t a Bubble; 53,651 Isn’t Mainstream

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There’s recently been a lot of talk on Josh Kopelman’s post, wisely titled 53,651. Basically, Josh claims that there are too many Web 2.0 startups going after 53,651, that is, TechCrunch‘s [at that time of writing] RSS subscriber count, and also the highest potential peak a startup in this timeframe gets after they’re “TechCrunched.” (a more realistic number would be 5k to 25k).

The problem with this is that getting 5-10,000 signups after a fresh review on TechCrunch and counting it as something (for CEOs, VCs etc) is misleading, a lie, and hardly the half-truth. Basically, he means people shouldn’t chase it, or in an extremity have it in their company’s dream list (having worked with a few, yes, companies actually have these).

Here’s why, at least how I see it: TechCrunch’s audience is 2.0 geeks: entrepreneurs, bloggers (like myself), hobbyists, mostly people who do this stuff for a profession [the exact difference between a mainstream audience and a ‘bubble audience’]. Admittedly, readers of are the same kind of people so in no way am I saying this is a bad thing.

But, the problem comes in when Web 2.0 startups start including such an audience near the top of their priorities and mistaken TechCrunch for Time Magazine. Then, when they succeed in getting a review on TechCrunch, they think that’s it: they’re made. People will write about them. Podcasts and newspapers will request interviews. They will be a major part of global controversies, and people from all over the world will give them feedback. More significantly, their ads will be clicked upon with big networks persuading them to join and they’ll see their VCs (if any) with a grin from ear to ear congratulating them. I may have exaggerated a tad bit, but you get the general idea.

The point of this is not only that 15,000 or so people won’t do you any good, but also that specifically these 15,000 people aren’t your audience (unless it’s a tool very specifically for that audience, such as cocomment in my opinion perhaps was). They’re a one-time audience, and after your traffic rises up, a few weeks later it’ll set back down to the way it was, with little growth. This is exactly also the case with digg and the idea behind getting dugg, I guess (as Jason Kottke found out).

The audience in my opinion a startup should be going for is one in their niche or scope. If you track podcasts, then go for the podcasters, if you manage money-lending between friends, then go for the Uni students, if you plan holidays and meetups, go for the families and that caliber of people, and if you help people find jobs or houses, go for them. If you notice, only a very small group of TechCrunch and I dare not say it, but audience are podcasters or University students or family people or job-hunters.

The people, or the group of people which are your audience, and this group includes everyone from University students to job-seekers, are the mainstream. Not the ‘bubble, one-time only, social bookmarking, social bookmarking, SXSW, Ruby on Rails, AJAX, TechCrunch’ group of people, or also known as the ‘bubble audience’. The bubble audience (I do realize this is a corny term) are just the people behind the people who you should be going for, just like you, so in a way they’re your competitors, and what better to have 15,000 competitiors visit your site and signup and a couple of days later forget about you, right?

Now that I’ve made my statement and realize caused ten-percent of my audience to unsubscribe, here’s what I conclude with. No audience is good or bad. No blog or site with an audience or searching for one is good or bad. But, a site searching for the wrong audience is bad — mostly, actually wholly for the site itself. So in smaller terms, if you’re someone who has made a neat Firefox plugin which lets you track tech news, yes, please, by all means, get in contact with TechCrunch or SolutionWatch or ReadWriteWeb or Mashable* or even me and if you really want, have us on your top priorities list. But if you’re someone with the next million dollar idea of a social community app for cell-phones, useful for University campuses, by all means do tell us about it but keep the people who most matter to YOU (hint: not 15,000 people LIKE you with thick glasses, business brains and laptops) in your priorities, and that is: the mainstream audience. Remember that in this case, the term ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ doesn’t apply.

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