Ev Williams’ formula for a billion dollar business

At a recent XOXO conference Ev Williams, founder of Twitter and Medium, gave his formula for a billion dollar business (as reported in Wired):

Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company. Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps

He gave Uber as his example. People have wanted to get from A to B since the beginning of time and Uber has just taken some steps out of the process.

The lesson here is that at the end of the day there is nothing new under the sun. We all still have the same basic needs and high potential consumer startups should be able to make a link between one of those needs and what they do. For my money Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the best framework for understanding those needs. Whilst our basic human needs haven’t changed the extent to which they are sated is definitely evolving. That’s where Maslow’s Hierarchy is powerful. By listing our needs in the order in which we need them to be satisfied it makes it easier to see where the gaps are.

The dominant meme in this area is that our physiological and safety at the bottom of the hierarchy are largely taken care of, and that the opportunities now are in helping people with their needs for ‘love/belonging’, ‘self-esteem’ and, particularly ‘self-actualisation’. What’s interesting about Ev’s formula for a billion dollar business is that it shows how to look for opportunities anywhere in the hierarchy – there are opportunities in needs at the bottom of the pyramid if they can be satisfied with fewer steps. The more efficient delivery of health is one such area that a number of entrepreneurs are working on now.