The Myth of the Overnight Success

I was catching up with Greg Falco yesterday about a project I am working on for a client.  For those not familiar with Greg, he is a brilliant, web savvy designer and author of They Should Do That.  A portion of his email in response to our discussion:


I was just remembering a conversation we had years ago about “the myth of the overnight success.”  We were talking about how lots of people end up being dubbed an overnight success, even though they most likely toiled over failed projects for decades before hitting it big on something.


I think people make the same wrong assumption about successful websites.  They look at the landscape of successful websites out there and assume (because the website is new to them) that the website started out that way and has always been as great as is today.  In reality most successful websites have gone through many, many iterations, and the earliest ones were abysmal.  You, and most people, never saw them because they sucked and if you had seen it you probably would have concluded that the company was clueless.

Just an example, craigslist started out as an actual e-mail list that Craig sent out because he thought it was fun.  And was originally built for a couple hundred bucks by a single developer.  You can imagine how much of that original code is still in use today…

My point is, even the best websites today that everyone is talking about are rarely overnight successes.  And almost none of them exist today as they did in their first iteration.  You don’t need to knock the ball out of the park the first time at bat.  It’s going to take several iterations.  Many of your assumptions will probably turn out to be wrong.  And for those reasons, it’s much better to build something on the cheap that does 80% of what you it needs to do.  Then you’ll be able to learn from your experiences

Greg’s email was a great reminder that when launching a new Internet project start small.  It is not “if” your web site will need to change, but by how much.  Fortunately new content management technologies like wordpress and expression engine allow incredible flexibility for very little investment.


It is also a reminder that most “overnight successes” are typically a product of many years of hard work, openess to change and discipline.


– Chris Dornfeld


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