How Startups Are Like Bejeweled Diamond Mine

Last year, my friend Ernest (@ernestw) did me the honor of including me in a pitch to get his game startup, Woo Games, into the MassChallenge accelerator.  This was mighty big of him since I didn’t know shit about games.  We didn’t make it into MC** but we had fun, learned some things and moved the business forward, so it wasn’t a loss.  As part of my crash course in the games business I started playing all sorts of games and there was one game that stuck with me.

diamondmineBejeweled Diamond Mine from Popcap is a simple but beautiful iPad match-3 that, as it’s hook, includes the notion of digging.  Match a diamond that’s touching the ground and it digs down one block.  Deceptively simple.  Having played Diamond Mine for a while now it has grown on me over time that the rules for success in the game mirror a lot of things I’ve discovered about startup life.  And since no one ever hesitates to compare business to unpleasant things like war, football and politics, I hereby present the definitive list of ways in which startups are like Bejeweled Diamond Mine:

  • Speed trumps accuracy.  In other words, one “right” shot is way less productive than three “now” shots.  To get into the million point club in Diamond Mine you have to move fast and continuously. Stopping the flow to consider the merits of one move versus another or to find a better move than the one right in front of your face is nearly always fatal.  As the ladies say, it’s the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now.  Until you are literally no longer a startup, always leave any party with Mr. Right Now.  There’ll be another party tomorrow.
  • Always be digging.  There are moves that get you somewhere and moves that don’t.  Matching a diamond that touches the ground gets you somewhere, everything else is waste, or as we say in the startup world, networking.  But JR, you say, this contradicts speed vs accuracy doesn’t it?  Nope – it’s a question of priorities.  Always work your priority list and digging is the top priority so look there for Mr. Right Now first.  To join the million point club, you have to look for digging moves first and only resort to non-digging moves if you don’t find any, then return to digging asap.  ABD – always be digging.   Every startup has its digging analog, new signups, revenue, key hires ..
  • Ignore the sound and the fury.  I’ve noticed that turning on the sound, while it makes the game more fun, is almost always less productive.  This is a pre-requisite for and also paradoxically a by-product of, focus.  Professional athletes typically claim that when they are “in the zone”, crowd noise disappears.  Focus is a self-reinforcing habit.
  • Design matters.  I notice new details about the game almost every time I play it.  Some of them are fluff, but a stunning number of them actually matter.  There are different sounds and visuals for each type of match and they’re tuned to convey the importance of the move.  Non diggers get one sound, diggers get another.  When I see a product like this it makes me think hard about where you draw the line for an MVP for different products in different industries at different points in time. If you ever wonder what Product Management is about, take Bejeweled Diamond Mine and ask youself, which of all these details are MVP, which aren’t and how would you know if you were right?

**Entering MassChallenge is a great way to move your business forward whether or not you get in.  If you want to know more about it, feel free to ping me.

About JR
Software guy, startup guy, non-fiction glutton, south shore inhabitant

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