One for All, or All for One?

5 years from now, there will be a sea of "duh, why didn't I think of that?" Google Glass apps. But today, it's hard to know which ideas and products will succeed. It's even harder to forecast how the apps will evolve.

Product strategies at startups vary along a spectrum. Some companies, such as VersaSuite*, try to tackle large, complicated problems. Others, such as AirStrip Technologies**, solve many smaller related problems. Each strategy offers pros and cons. These characterizations don't apply to every business, but tend to characterize businesses at each end of the spectrum.

Pros of solving a big problem:

1. More revenue per user/sale - The more painful the problem, the more people are generally willing to pay for it.

2. Less competition - Because it's a harder problem to solve, there's generally less competition.

3. Larger markets - harder-to-solve problems are usually indicative of larger markets.

Pros of solving smaller problems:

1. No one is irreplaceable - What if the lead engineer at startup solving a really big problem left after 3 months? What if it was an engineer working on one of 1/5 smaller products?

2. Shorter development cycle - Faster commercialization. This expedites time to revenue, time to profit, and creates opportunities to build committed and vocal users to help grow the business. These are some of the most crucial metrics for investors.

3. Higher profit margin per user/sale - more complicated products tend to require more training, setup, and support than simpler ones. Many simple apps - think about most iPhone apps - require absolutely no support or overhead. In some cases, these business print money and cost literally nothing to operate.

4. Less stress and lower costs - smaller problems require fewer employees. Employees are expensive and complicated. It's much easier to manage a company with 10 employees than a company with 100 employees. The lower the cost of doing business, the lower the cost of being wrong.

Google Glass provides marginal value. Most people don't need Glass most of the time. Most Glass apps will be vitamins, not pain pills. In light of the pros and cons presented above, it would make sense that Glass app developers would tend towards the AirStrip model, not the VersaSuite model. There will of course be developers solving big problems on Glass, but most will go after lower hanging fruit.

* VersaSuite develops, markets, sells, deploys, and supports a suite of software modules that collectively provide the software backbone to run all aspects hospital. VersaSuite solves an extremely complicated problem: end-to-end hospital automation. VersaSuite includes over 1000 screens, and generally costs about $1M for smaller hospitals. The software and deployment services are even more expensive at larger organizations.

** Airstrip Technologies was founded in 2010 as an iPhone application that could gather EKG data for cardiologists and display it on an iPhone. AirStrip solved that problem to perfection. There's just not a whole lot of innovation left to be had around displaying and understanding EKG data. In order to continue growing, AirStrip has expended into related markets: displaying ultrasound, vitals, and other diagnostic data for physicians on mobile devices. Over the past 3 years, AirStrip has developed a portfolio of smartphone apps to bring instrument-driven diagnostics to mobile devices. Each is packaged and sold separately.