Commercial or Consumer?

Ben Horowitz offered an interesting metric about how many customers you need to have a software application that is “wildly” successful.  Ready?

1,000 enterprise/business customers

or

50,000,000 consumers.

I think these numbers make a ton of sense.   Of course there are exceptions – if your software is expensive then 50,000,000 users may be out of the realm of possibility.  And if your software has residual fees, subscription fees, or service costs attached, then you certainly can get away with having only a handful of customers.

But for the purposes of “one time buy” I think Ben’s numbers are a nice benchmark for “HOLY COW LOOK WHAT WE’VE DONE!” success.   However, I wish a distinction had been made between customer and user.  I imagine there are only a handful of software shipments that have ever sold 50 million units (MS Office and what else?)  But there are a number of communities that have 50 Million users.  LinkedIn has 70Million.  Facebook just crossed 500 million.  So it stands to reason that having 50 million installations would create enough opportunities that, yeah, you’re successful if you have that many people using your wares.

Anyway, I’d long wondered what kind of scale VCs and developers looked for when evaluating projects.  How much market needed to exist to really get people’s blood moving.  Not saying the numbers above are the end all, but its good to have some rough idea.

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