Why a GitHub-inspired startup is a good idea

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson recommends that those in need of startup inspiration look to GitHub

Fred Wilson of Union Square VenturesImage credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures

Those of us of a certain age will remember the old E.F. Hutton commercials from the 1970s and 80s which featured the slogan, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” When it comes to the world of technology startups and venture capital, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures might be considered a modern day E.F. Hutton. When a man who's a managing partner in a company that invested early in sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare talks, like via his popular blog, people most definitely listen.

If you're sitting around today trying to come up with an idea for a startup, Wilson had something to say about it this week that you should hear. He wrote on Monday that while, in general, he finds derivative ideas hard to get off the ground or to get VCs like him excited about, there is one type of derivative idea that he and USV are bullish on: startups inspired by GitHub, the wildly popular cloud-based repository for open source software. Wilson writes:

"The power of the GitHub model is not just a repository of work and version control in the cloud. It's the public nature of much of that work. And the reputation and identity effects for those who publish some or all of their work publicly."

He also cites popular developer Q&A site Stack Overflow (which Union Square Ventures has invested in) as another example of a site that should be of inspiration to those thinking of startup ideas. In short, services that encourage collaboration, knowledge sharing and reputation building in industries other than software development are, in Wilson's opinion, fertile grounds for startups. He cites Splice, a GitHub-like service for musicians and protocols.io, an open life science protocol repository, currently raising money on Kickstarter, as examples that he thinks have a chance.

As a technology writer who often looks to GitHub and StackOverflow to see what programmers are talking about and working on, I couldn't agree more. I'm always amazed at the sheer volume of knowledge and information that gets shared via those services, and how integral they've become to the day-to-day lives of developers. I see no reason why such tools couldn't also be of great use to other industries and occupations.

In fact, I've seen seen many examples of people trying to make use of GitHub for non-code related things, such as managing a To Do list, collecting public feedback on proposed web accessibility standards and even organizing a wedding.

Of course, as Wilson notes, services inspired by GitHub but specifically designed for other industries or application could be quite successful as well. In addition to Splice and protocols.io, there are any number of GitHub-like services for other occupations out there, such as Penflip (for writers), Pixelapse (for designers) and Forking Recipes (for, well, you can guess). Surely there any number of other applications for this type of service.

So, would-be entrepreneur, Fred Wilson has spoken. Will you listen?

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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