Paul Revere’s Ride And Network Effects

Started reading a book about Paul Revere’s Ride.  It’s by David Hackett Fischer.  It’s interesting.  Revere’s ride has been characterized as a solo rider screaming “The British are Coming” through the streets of Boston.  That’s not true.  The ride took place on April 18, 1775, and ran into the early morning hours of April 19.  The first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired on April 19.

Raise a glass to Paul Revere today.  Without him, America might not exist.

Revere wasn’t the only rider that night.  The other main rider was William Dawes.  But, because Dawes and Revere were different people and had built different reputations in the community, their rides had different effects.

Dawes ride had virtually no network effects.  Revere’s ride was loaded with network effects.  It wasn’t just the path they rode on, it was who they were and how they chose to operate as they rode.

Hackett Fischer describes Revere’s effort as “The Midnight Ride as Collective Effort”.  Revere had built up a reputation over time in the community.  He’d developed plenty of relationships, and he knew which ones to push on in order to get things moving.  Revere’s ride is a broad lesson for any startup looking to create network effects.

The first step is just to create credibility.  You have to say “Yes”.  You have to be present.  You have to actually do stuff.  Revere served on committees, lead committees and selflessly was a part of building the community.  He put himself and his family at personal risk.  This was a “give before you get” ethos.  He might have gotten some business out of it for his silversmith shop, but that wasn’t his primary reason for being a part of what he was doing.  It wasn’t until after the war that he realized the true economic gain from his efforts.

The second step is to understand which levers you have to pull in order to create the chain reaction of network effects.  Over the course of the previous ten years, Revere learned who would get things done, and who wouldn’t.  That night on the ride, he knocked on the doors of the people he knew would hop on their horse and spread the word.

The third step is to have a system in place that allows for network effects to happen.   In Boston, they had created a system that lay dormant for alarming people.  It was simple to use.  There was virtually one action that people had to do in order to move the line along.  That system also had protocols.  If this happens, then meet up at this meeting point.  It was highly decentralized.  The system relied on people taking their own initiative and making their own decisions.  If systems are designed to be centralized command and control networks, they won’t have network effects.  The magic leap is being able to trust that people with the ability to act, will act.

It takes time and careful preparation to deliver network effects.  Simply having a two-sided market business model isn’t enough to create them.