Why Smile by Webshots is Destined to Fail – A Lesson for Silicon Valley Startups

According to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the Silicon Valley business model for product development has been:

70% of your attention, energy and money goes into talking about how great your product is.

30% of your attention, energy and money goes into into building a great product.

“So you could win with a mediocre product, if you were a good enough marketer. That is getting harder to do. The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies…the individual is empowered…The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it.” – Jeff Bezos

Threefold Photo’s business plan for Smile seems to be 95% talk and 5% build. But even the 70/30 model makes no mention of customer satisfaction. In fact, there is no mention of customers period. To be fair, Threefold Photos is not the only Silicon Valley startup with this attitude. It’s all about ‘build it fast and if we fail no big deal just move on to the next flavor of the month.’

Yes, failure is actually considered a badge of honor among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Dave McClure, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor says:

“Getting used to that, bouncing back from that, being able to figure out what people hate and turn that into what people love…if you’re not willing to take the risk of failing and not experience failure, you’re never going to figure out what the right path is to success.”

That’s a great attitude, but here’s the reality. Threefold Photos and other startups see nothing wrong with releasing unfinished versions of their applications while using their customers as unpaid beta testers. When the customers get fed up and don’t provide the necessary feedback, or provide feedback that doesn’t jive with the company’s goals – the company declares the product a failure and moves on the next big thing, leaving their customers in the lurch.

Fortunately there are companies like Amazon – companies with CEOs who place a high value on making the customer’s experience a pleasurable one while still generating a hefty profit. These comments from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are a welcome respite from the typical Silicon Valley startup:

“If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word of mouth is so very, very powerful.” 

“We have so many customers who treat us so well, and we have the right kind of culture that obsesses over the customer.”

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” 

Smile appears to be all about making a quick profit at the expense of the customer. Flickr has also embraced the customer-comes-last model with their latest changes. Guess who’ll be around 5, 10, 20 years from now? I think we all know the answer to that.

To paraphrase – It’s the customer, stupid!

One thought on “Why Smile by Webshots is Destined to Fail – A Lesson for Silicon Valley Startups

  1. I’d just like to get all my photos I placed on Webshots.com from its first year and a few people! I paid for a full year one year ago, and I haven’t seen a dime back. I coudn’t get into the site since last September and after that many tries. Ole Smiley told me to just enter my username and password, and then told me it was not correct! I KNOW username and password the same way I know my own name! They did NOTHING to help me. They did, however, give me a link to Facebook where a few of my photos I had taken out of many albums AND some photos appearing in news articles and on Facebook. Everything was jammed together. I couldn’t get them album by album. I ever got anythin.

    Just tell someone to refund the entire year as I think it’s only fair. I spent lots of time working on finding my photos, talking with other folks with photos on Webshots and reading up on what in the world happened. I never got any info other than some little email during August or September last year that a change would be made PERIOD.

    To get to my photos the link was:



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