In the classic 1960s animated sitcom The Flintstones, we see a prehistoric family sitcom set in the city of Bedrock. The main characters are Fred and Wilma Flintstone, who live in a cave house with their pet dinosaur and have jobs that require them to wear ties. The family’s mode of transportation is a car made of stone, furs, and timber, which is started by Fred’s rapid leg movements. The catchphrase “Yabba dabba doo!” is commonly associated with the show.
“Flinstoning” is a metaphor for this car, except in software, where missing product functionality is replaced with manual human effort. During early product releases, certain basic features like account deletion, content moderation tools, referral features, and others may be absent in the beta version. Instead of providing these features, the product may offer a way to contact the developers, who will manually address the issue using tools on the back end.
As the developers receive more inquiries, they will eventually build out the feature, enabling users to use it themselves. The advantage of a “Flintstoned” product launch is that it allows developers to release the app into the market and obtain feedback from customers while they continue to work on adding missing features.
Cofounders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian employed the technique when they first launched Reddit more than a decade ago. Reddit is now self-proclaimed as the “Front Page of the Internet” and remains one of the world’s most prominent websites, with hundreds of millions of users. These users are divided into over 100,000 active subreddit communities where they share millions of links.
No one wants to live in a ghost town. No one wants to join an empty community. In the early days, it
was our job each day to make sure there was good content on the front page. We’d post it ourselves,
using dozens of dummy accounts. Otherwise the community might dry up.
All of these dummy accounts looked and acted like real users, but it was Steve and Alexis controlling them.
I wrote some code that would scrape news websites and post them with made-up usernames. That
way, it looked like there was an active community. Problem was, it still needed my attention—about a
month after launch in July of that year, I went camping with my family and didn’t submit any links.
When I checked Reddit, the homepage was blank! Whoops.
Services like DoorDash and Postmates Flinstoned by showing a large selection of restaurants, regardless of whether those restaurants had actually signed up. When customers ordered, the apps would send couriers to pick up the food, unbeknownst to the small, local businesses! They would just act as customers, grab the food, and deliver to the users who ordered it.
PayPal gained notoriety for creating bots that automatically purchased and sold goods on eBay but only conducted transactions using PayPal. This strategy was employed to encourage eBay sellers to join the PayPal service.
How far can Flintstoning go?
Nintendo employed an extreme strategy when launching their Switch console in 2016. In order to break through the Cold Start Problem and incentivize outside game developers to build for the new platform, Nintendo invested heavily in first-party content. This involved building two new games, Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with internal studios within the company. These games were specifically designed to help support the Switch’s launch, and the strategy paid off as the console hit 70 million units within the first few years.
The games industry refers to this strategy as “first-party content,” and it can be a significant investment. In the past, Microsoft Xbox has also implemented this strategy, with games like Halo and Gears of War being developed in-house to help support the launch of new consoles.
Co-Founder @ MDBootstrap.com / Forbes 30 under 30 / EO'er
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