Now we’re biting off the bigger goal of changing the way everyone gets answers to their questions on the Internet
This I totally get, but so far as I can tell, there's no proprietary IP here. Not for asking questions on SO or SE sites, and not for careers. It's far too easy to duplicate the model, and would be far too difficult to enforce infringement of a copyright or patent (if one can even be obtained).
The only option to make the business model proprietary-like is to be the only show in town. Given the infinite continuum of topics in the universe, to have a monopoly on the business model, you have to have a monopoly on the topic space, which is impossible if you aren't big enough. Even so, there will always be gaps in topic space coverage because the topic space itself is changing and expanding (which, I assume, is actually part of the goal of the business). Are there topics which won't be covered because of an ethical or moral issue? Given the business model, these gaps are bad. The direct coupling of revenue and time isn't so hot either, but it's not a deal-breaker.
From reading the blog entry, it sounds like this is the type of strategy Joel is thinking about. It's high risk that needs to be justified by a potential high reward. So, from the point of view of an investor, what are the next logical questions to ask about the reward model?
- How scalable is it in the current markets?
- How scalable is it in the target markets?
- How sustainable is it in the current markets?
- How sustainable is it in the target markets?
- Who are our current competition, and how can we offer better value?
- Who are our future competition?
- What is the exit strategy?
When I start answering these questions based on the current models (ads, careers, and StackExchange), one certainly makes more sense than the others, but none of them seem particularly appealing.
Ads: People generally dislike ads, no matter how benign they are on the page. Ad-blockers are becoming more and more popular, and even without them, people won't keep clicking on ads. This revenue stream will eventually be neutralized completely.
Careers: The concept of providing a focused listing to a targeted audience is appealing and valuable, but if the major job sites get their act together and provide this service through their already-established channels and users, there will have to be competition on some other aspect, most likely price. More fingers in the same pie, particularly when it comes to price, is a huge negative. Furthermore, the market is already saturated with job sites.
StackExchange: This is the most sustainable revenue model of the three. However, there is already competition in this space. Most importantly, their product is FREE. They've already commoditized the product. The competition must take place on other facets.
IMO, the model needs a lot of work before VC or public investment should even be considered. It's too early.