Does this sound familiar?

The web is no longer a category that’s useful to lump together with all other sorts of businesses. Prudent advice for getting ready to produce real widgets is likely to be exactly the opposite of what’s sensible for starting a new web service. The cost structure is entirely different, the agility is entirely different, and the priorities should be totally different too.

Sounds a lot like the “old business models don’t apply” self-delusion that led to dot-BOMB, doesn’t it? Here’s a hint for all those who spend too much time in echo chambers like 37signals congratulating each other for being so much like themselves: it’s still business. Sooner or later your money will still have to come not from your own pocket and not from investors but from actual customers who have money but are wary of all this “net changes everything” arrogance. That’s especially true the second time around, whether it’s the same snake-oil salesmen coming around again or a new batch. They’re still going to want actual products and services and commitments in return for paying you. The cost structure is a little different, but not much, and your “agility” is merely a function of being unencumbered by actual engagement with the aforementioned paying customers. It will fade as you move out of your parents’ basement into the real world.

The “everything old is new again” aspect of this really hit me when I saw in the comments that DropSend was being used as an example of how far web-based service delivery has come. It seems to be the brainchild of one Ryan Carson – another cheerleader for the Fubar 2.0 business model. The problem is, it mirrors both the functionality and the “feel” of a company called click2send that I worked with back in 2000. They also wanted to solve the barely-real “firewalls eat large email attachments” problem, but there were a couple of differences:

  • Click2send seemed to have some idea about making a pitch to businesses that might actually have both money and the problem they claim to solve, whereas DropSend seems to rely mostly on targeting individual users with the old “sign up for a free trial” bait-and-switch.
  • Click2send had transparent email integration, while DropSend doesn’t look like much more than a web interface to an old-fashioned FTP drop.

Yeah, some progress, huh? This is like having the same bad dream two nights in a row. Wake me when this one’s over.