Okay, the piece I wrote earlier that mocked Bigs for wasting their time with big plans that amount to nothing begged a question.
What if you don't work for a Big and don't want to? What if you like to develop tech products for users and would prefer to do so in a truly free and open market, without the distortions caused by the struggles of employees at the Bigs?
1. People come back to places that send them away. This means NO LOCK-IN. You don't hold your customers by force, you hold them with the love they feel for you. And the only way they feel love for you is if you love them. Sting once sang: If you love someone set them free. The wisest words ever sung, imho. People are smart. Even if they don't see the lock-in, they feel it. Eventually they will bolt. If your investors say you need to force your users to use your stuff, fire your investors and keep the users. Money is fungible. People are not.
2. Choose the best people to compete with. If you're lucky enough to have your company grow, you're going to need great competitors to keep your employees from getting lazy and starting to act like they work for a Big. It's amazing how quickly that happens. The most successful entrepreneurs have been able to inculcate a tremendous fear of and respect for competitors among their people. It's much better than thinking your competitors are buffoons. If they're smart enough to compete with you, they're pretty freaking smart.
3. Make products for geniuses, for the simple reason that if you think your customers are stupid, then what does that say about you? You make a product that idiots choose? It must suck. So if you're making a good product, it follows that it's for really really smart people who can sort through all the crap out there and pick the best stuff. Yours.
4. Only steal from the best, and consider theft of your ideas the most sincere form of respect (it is). But when you steal, don't be a dick and make your version incompatible. See item #1. That's lock-in and if you do it YOU SUCK and deserve to die.
PS: I've been talking with some folks in Comp Sci at NYU, trying to encourage them to build around these ideas. This school is interested in entrepreneurial development. Thats very cool. Now remember to give everyone choice and share your ideas, and compete based on price, performance and service, not locking people in. All universities should encourage their students to skip the shortcuts. Getting wealthy by cheating isn't a good way to live. Get wealthy by being the best! That's cooool.