Your Start-up is a Three-Legged Stool

seattle public library

Your start-up is like a three-legged stool, Des Traynor told the dotconf recently. Traynor, whose firm works with numerous tech start-ups, cited the example of cutting-edge architecture such as the Seattle Public Library where architects, engineers and business people need to work closely together.

Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, likened this approach to a three-legged stool, Traynor said. “That’s now how I think about start ups.” Traynor said he looks carefully at businesses seeking his help because he did not want to get a reputation as the guy who works with failed start ups.

In a very entertaining and informative session, Traynor outlined some of his criteria:

The Business Model

When the Post Office was first started in Britain, it charged the recipient when he received a letter. It also charged by the mile. That model was over turned in the 1840s when flat-rate postage was introduced. As a result, the post office became phenomenally successful. Amazon can charge less for goods that the producers because it receives cash once the item ships, and then waits 45 days to pay the supplier, Traynor said.

Another of his examples is Manpacks, which offers a sock and underwear subscription service to men who couldn’t be bothered washing those particular items of clothing. Poking fun at Facebook, Traynor suggested a pay model for four classes of user: Just Stalking, Friends and Family, Popular Guy and Social Media Dick. Privacy would be €20 extra, he joked.

User Experience

The user’s experience with the company — not just the website interface — must be consistently good. There is no point to a company that says, “We’ve got a shit-hot website but all our staff are assholes,” Traynor said.


Traynor described technical strength as “a formidable asset.” In the 30 minutes of so of his talk, he said 25 days worth of video were uploaded to YouTube. Their capacity to routinely absorb that volume puts it way ahead of its competitors, he said.

Traynor also took a different approach than is usual amongst web start ups. Many starting up would argue that it is important to get build traffic or buzz around a website. “Money should come first,” he said. Relying on advertising later on is risky. “You can’t flick the advertising switch and expect your bank account to fill up.”

Photo of Seattle Public Library courtesy of Frankphotos on

2 thoughts on “Your Start-up is a Three-Legged Stool

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks for your kind words about my session, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Just to clarify, should anyone read this and think that I’m a money hungry miser, the reason I stress that start-ups should aim to charge people for their service is because I believe it’s the best way to test if you’re delivering value. If you can charge people for the service you provide, then you can be sure that what you’re doing is desirable.


  2. Pingback: Building “Empathic” Websites « John P. Muldoon

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