Joel Spolsky, the founder of Stack Overflow, has a series of strategy letters than blew me away with their level of insight and clarity. There are six of them, and I think you should read them all:

  • Ben and Jerry’s vs. Amazon - on slow organic growth businesses vs "land grab" businesses
  • Chicken And Egg Problems - on the difficulty of building platforms and two-sided market places
  • Let Me Go Back! - on eliminating barriers to entry
  • Bloatware and the 80/20 Myth - on the myth of bloatware. This one influenced me the most -- developers spend so much time complaining about bloatware and unnecessary features that you don't realize that a sizeable number of people are using all the features you think are unnecessary. Notable quote:
... lot of software developers are seduced by the old “80/20” rule. It seems to make a lot of sense: 80% of the people use 20% of the features. So you convince yourself that you only need to implement 20% of the features, and you can still sell 80% as many copies.

Unfortunately, it’s never the same 20%. Everybody uses a different set of features. In the last 10 years I have probably heard of dozens of companies who, determined not to learn from each other, tried to release “lite” word processors that only implement 20% of the features. This story is as old as the PC. Most of the time, what happens is that they give their program to a journalist to review, and the journalist reviews it by writing their review using the new word processor, and then the journalist tries to find the “word count” feature which they need because most journalists have precise word count requirements, and it’s not there, because it’s in the “80% that nobody uses,” and the journalist ends up writing a story that attempts to claim simultaneously that lite programs are good, bloat is bad, and I can’t use this damn thing ’cause it won’t count my words. If I had a dollar for every time this has happened I would be very happy.
  • Strategy Letter V - "commoditize your complement". Probably the most well known of the strategy letters. On how every industry tries to grow by commoditizing its complements.
  • Strategy Letter VI - on building products ahead of their time