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Startup Secret 51: Do it like Draw Something

How did an incomplete, oversimplified game get to be worth over $180 million?

"Usually, features make things worse."

--Don Porter, CEO of OMGPOP & creator of Draw Something

About a week before Draw Something was acquired by Zynga for $180 million, I spoke with the creator of the game and CEO of the company, Dan Porter. He dropped this little Startup Secret. It's hardly unique. We hear it all the time in different variants: build the "minimum viable product." Or, "Ship early, ship often." And my new favorite: "If you're not embarrassed by your first version, you shipped too late."

Now that Porter's dumb little game has made him a gazilionaire, it's time to head back into the cave and really meditate on this.

Empty your mind, if you will. And while you're at it, empty your app. Take another look at Draw Something. It's an amateurish game. Skeletal, even. It's missing the rudiments of game mechanics. There are no levels. There's no way to compete with other players. There are no challenges. It's just you and an online acquaintance, passing the equivalent of pre-literate visual grunts back and forth.

And yet it was worth what Zynga paid for it. Because it works. It's elemental. Users love it -- tens of millions of them. It's like Microsoft Word stripped down to just the thing you need to actually, you know, write (which exists: WriteRom for the Mac). Or an e-mail program that actually helps you blast through your e-mail because it's simple and clean (Sparrow, also for the Mac).

People are buying apps again where the focus is on what the product does, not on the crap that's piled on top of what it does. More importantly for entrepreneurs: nobody's company gets bought because the product has the most features in its market. What gets bought is the team that can express the purest version of an idea. Not coincidentally, it's also this team's product that gets the most devoted users and rabid fan base.

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies, and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.