In the cartoon world, everybody wishes to create “the next Calvin and Hobbes.” In the tech world, it’s “the next Google.” I think each world can learn things from the other that can help you in your efforts as you develop a comic strip or a startup idea.
Being from both worlds, here are my TIPS FOR SUCCESS:
1. My strip/startup is all about [insert one word].
You need to find the essential human core to whatever it is you’re doing. Calvin and Hobbes wasn’t fundamentally about a little boy with a big imagination. It was about friendship. One word. Google, obviously, is about search. Note how much stronger “search” is than “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible.”
Find your essence. Make sure it’s a fundamentally human one, and stay focused on it alone during development. You should be wrapping everything else around it, like characterizations and UI design. Make it your DNA, not something you try to tack on or discover later.
2. Don’t be a plagiarist; forget about building a better mouse trap.
When I think about the mountains of money that have been squandered trying to out-Google Google, it makes me want to cry. Or scream. If you take “the next [whatever]” literally, you’re bound to fail. Once anybody has reached the point of being the noun in that phrase, it’s too late to try to compete with them on their playing field with their ball.
Even Calvin and Hobbes’ retirement didn’t open the door to another strip that was like Calvin and Hobbes. Believe me, tons of people tried. There were so many C and H knock-offs hitting syndicates and newspapers after Bill Watterson quit the strip that opening the mail became a running joke about “What does Calvin look like today?” (sometimes Calvin!) and “I haven’t seen a giraffe yet…no wait, here he is.” Even the few good ones that came through were thrown in the trash.
Google won search years ago. Let them have it. Search is not the end-all and be-all of the Internet, despite what you probably think. It’s dominated the past ten years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something else that can dominate the next ten. I guarantee that the next Google will not be about search.
3. Develop it from the beginning to be mainstream.
I believe that the almost universally accepted strategy of attracting early adopters and then hoping to go mainstream is a big mistake. You need to understand the mainstream from the beginning and develop to it.
Google wasn’t about attracting early adopters. They created something that anybody and everybody could enjoy. Ditto Calvin and Hobbes.
Sure, you can make a lot of money out of the mainstream. Look at Scott Adams. He’s become a multimillionaire and good for him. It’s great success that any cartoonist would be very proud of. But even Dilbert doesn’t come close to the prestige of Calvin and Hobbes. And IMO, Facebook, Friendfeed, Twitter, MySpace…none of them can ever hope to match Google’s success, because they were not created from the very beginning to be mainstream.
4. Know who all your different customers are and design in their various needs.
Almost all cartoonists who would like to get rich in syndication make the mistake of thinking comic strip readers are their primary customers. They aren’t. Newspaper editors are. They’re the ones who buy the comics. They’re the ones who are the gatekeepers and who supply the compensation.
This is why “we can worry about the business model later” is such a fallacy. To me, that’s like building the Trump Tower without concern for the need of plumbing or electrical, thinking you can add it in later.
Whether serendipitous or deliberate, advertising is part of Google’s DNA. If you don’t build in the business model, you don’t have a business much less the next Google. If you don’t understand the needs and limitations of newspaper editors, even if “end users” would bust a gut laughing over your cartoons, you’ll never have the next Calvin and Hobbes.
5. Remember that what’s most important is not what you think.
If you gathered people to judge a group of cartoonists’ ability to create a Calvin-and-Hobbes-type success, their criteria would undoubtedly be how well the cartoonist draws. They would be overly impressed and carried away by great art and underwhelmed by a cartoonist who draws relatively poorly. And the group would likely pick the wrong guy.
Sorry, it’s not the art that’s most important. It’s the writing.
I believe this is why there are so few successes with venture capital. Non-geeks judging geeks are too impressed by the technology. Perhaps geeks judging geeks are even worse!
Sorry, it’s not the technology that’s most important. It’s the anthropology.
Why is it the writing and the anthropology? Because it’s people using the product that matters most, and they care about their own desired end result, not whatever it is that brought them to it. They want the easy laugh. They want the easily found document.
Scott Adams beat out business cartoonists who can draw much better, because of his superior writing. Twitter is beating more technically sophisticated (and reliable) micro-blogging platforms because of anthropology.
The next Calvin and Hobbes will be superior in both writing and art. The next Google will be superior in both technology and anthropology.
Too bad Silicon Valley only respects the former. They’ve left the latter to be fallen into by accident. But that’s okay…it just gives me more opportunity to create the next Google myself. 😉
I hope this helps when developing your own endeavors. Good luck!