Charlie O'Donnell On Why We Need More Anthropologists
Charlie O’Donnell makes a case for getting more anthropologists involved in software product design, and I have to agree.
The General Assembly conference is a full-day summit of keynotes, panels, and networking at General Assembly, bringing together founders and investors for an intelligent dialogue about the state of venture capital, fundraising strategies for early-stage startups, honest stories from entrepreneurs on successful (and less than successful) capital raises, when/how/why to bootstrap, and more. Food and drink will be provided. Speakers include Anthony Caselena, founder and CEO of Squarespace, Hayley Barna & Katia Beauchamp, co-founders of Birchbox and Spencer Fry, Co-Founder of Carbonmade. I’ll be on a panel about the State of the Venture Capital industry.
By the way, we’re in severe need of some anthropology classes. Back in 2005, Joshua Schachter told me and and the guys at USV that he thought venture firms should employ anthropoligists—people who were experts in human behavior, needs, and evolutionary tendencies. As the web was becoming more and more about people, and seemingly less about the technology, it would follow that those who could best predict where it was going would be experts in people more so than experts in writing code.
This is what I find most disappointing about many of the ideas I see day in and day out. They appear to be more about solving for what will get funded or what’s a derivative of a product they saw on Techcrunch that they don’t even use themselves versus understanding and improving the lives of the population at large. Entrepreneurs pitching are too easily tripped up by “Ok, so pretend I don’t know you and I’ve never heard of your product—how do I find it?” Their first answer is usually that someone would share it with me, because it went viral, but they don’t understand what incentive anyone would have to share their product—other than the fact that their own social circle of friends seem to share a random assortment of stuff and they do it very often. They too often extrapolate non-existant trends or false perceived needs from their very homogeneous social circles.
If you’re going to design a product, it’s so incredibly important to not only diversify the kinds of people you interact with socially, but spend a fair bit of analysis and contemplation to really understand trends in their behavior. Why does someone use or not use Service A? Entrepreneurs are, to their own disadvantage, punting on the understanding of human behavior they need to design products for the masses. Perhaps if you spend a little less time pitching and more time listening—figuring out why people use the products they do and observing how they interact with others, you’d have more users. Before you get confident that you’ve got something, get curious about why people are doing what they’re doing.
The General Assembly conference he mentions has a long list of entrepreneurs talking about getting funded, but not a single anthropologist. Hmmm. Sounds like a conference that will talk about what is getting funded, and not ‘improving the lives of the population at large’, but I could be wrong. In fact, it sounded so much like ‘the funded talking to the unfunded about becoming funded by convincing funders to fund’ that I decided not to attend. Unless they want an anthropologist to talk about social behavior on the web.