What startups can learn from the May 21 Judgment Day group

So, apparently Judgment Day is this week and I’ll soon be burning in a hell on earth. At least according to Family Radio, the group that believes this. While I obviously think this group is ridiculous, I also think startups can learn from them.

Similar to the Family Radio crowd, while running a startup I’ve managed to get a mix of people to believe, follow and even pay for our service. Every week I meet smart people who start companies with audacious goals, but none as audacious as predicting Judgment Day will be this week and then the world will end. And yet, as crazy as their goals are, Family Radio has had quite the success. Thousands of people believe the end is this week and have spent their time and money promoting it around the world. No A/B testing, no customer development and no beta launch (well, maybe one. Their previous Judgment Day prediction was for 1994). As far as I’ve observed, this is what they did:

- held a daily radio show that includes repeated instructions about the end of the world (dedication to daily work and dedication through tough times)

- provided a really clear message about their beliefs (targeted a growing conservative fundamentalist market niche)

- didn’t build a fancy website (which doesn’t matter to their audience anyway, since they listen to the radio or podcasts)

- built no social networking integration on their site (their members found ways to organize without it)

- stated an audacious and clear goal (got everyone excited about one really big thing, not many little things)

The Family Radio people will know May 21 whether they were right or not. And when on May 22 their leader tells them that the date’s been changed they should consider themselves lucky. They will have really concrete feedback and can then hopefully move on with some wisdom.

But for sheer audacity, getting people to do outrageous things and change their lives, has any startup even come close?

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