What the Arizona Cardinals and Friendster Have in Common

They both took their eyes off the ball.

Last night the Cardinals blew a 20 point third quarter lead on one of the messiest comebacks in recent NFL history. How could they have let this happen? It looked like a sure win.

Well, that was Friendster’s thinking in early 2004. Their rival was MySpace but they were just too arrogant to pay them the attention they deserved. The Friendster demise is a really good case study for how to blow a significant lead in the market by tripping over your own self. If you take a look at the top 10 things that will make or break your website, you will see that Friendster broke all 10.

There are two excellent Friendster articles that every entrepreneur should read: The New York Times article (free registration required) and Danah Boyd’s analysis. The Times gives you a more business/management perspective, while Danah’s analyzes the demise from a sociological point of view.

In essence some of the biggest problems were:

  • Focusing on new features and pie in the sky issues over the most basic one – that the site did not work (due to scalability issues – at times pages took minutes to load.)
  • Trying to innovate on the tech side when easier solutions existed: “We had often chosen the more exotic solution over the more simple solution.” (Mr. Lindstrom – NYT).
  • Not innovating on the features side – after a while you ran out of things to do on Friendster.
  • Not listening to its core audience and forcing the direction of the company instead of allowing its users to guide it.

Friendster blew a significant opportunity because they really took the eye off the ball and became too complacent.

Whether you’re up 20-0 in a football game or have 20 million more users than your competition, always remember – you’re only 20 minutes or 20 months away from coming in second if you don’t focus on the game.