Andrew Chen Archives

Subscribe · Featured · Recent · The Cold Start Problem 📘
Dear readers, I have moved to Substack and I will be writing here from now on:
In the meantime, I will leave up for posterity. Enjoy!

Reader Question: Are there new opportunities in social networking?

Q: Andrew, Been reading your blogs ever since Scoble made the introductions :) My question: do you think, its possible for a generic social network to launch and make it big today? If yes, How?
Posted by Ravi

A: First, let’s talk definitions
I get variations of this question a lot, both online and offline. And everytime I’m asked, I tend to ask several followup questions, like:

  • What do you mean by “social network”?
  • What do you mean by “make it big?”

Let’s talk about the first issue, the meaning of a social network. One could define this as any site that has a standard set of pages like a profile page, a friend list, a newsfeed, a wall, and all the other mechanics. Another definition might be to do it more narrowly, like a set of mechanics and also the primary use case of communication. Yet another would be to define it as a site supportin the OpenSocial API.

It’s obvious, but the more narrowly you define the term, the harder it will be for a specific site to replicate its success. If you completely cloned Facebook today and released it to the wild, it would have a vastly different outcome than doing it 5 years ago.

Similarly, the concept of “making it big” is nebulous as well. For many entrepreneurs, making a company that throws off $5 million a year that supports a great lifestyle is an incredible outcome. Many indie Facebook developers and associated “lifestyle entrepreneurs” are primarily driven by that. For other entrepreneurs, they aspire for a billion dollar outcome.

My take on credible social network businesses
With all that said, I do think there are many opportunities for people to build sites with social networking backbones, and attract 10s of millions of users.

The reason is that there are simply too many people in the world interested in mega-niche topics, like:

  • Fashion
  • Knitting
  • Board games
  • Kittens
  • Photography
  • Comic books
  • Import cars
  • etc.

And the same way that there are specific ecosystems of clubs, stores, student organizations, magazines, etc. that specifically cater to these niches, there will be websites that cater to these and will find some way of reaching millions of users.

I think where you run into problems as a business is when you are focused on a site that:

  • Is contextless and primarily is used for communication
  • Is reflective of your actual friend group (not new people)
  • Is people-centric rather than centered on media, games, etc

Taking all of this out makes it so that your site not only supports the same use cases as Facebook and MySpace, but also has the same “feel.”

There are many permutions of this that can work well as a social network – it’s worth exploring more. 

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see for additional important information.