I am fascinated by the creation, cultivation, and growth of ideas. Specfiically, the process by which a kernal of an idea for a project can grow into a sustainable entity. And, further, why some of these projects end up being successful while other, oftentimes similar, initiatives fail.
There are plenty of fantastic blogs on venture capital and the venture industry. There are also great insights that can be found about specific startups at their corporate blogs. But there arent that many blogs by and for entrepreneurs that provide practical advice around forming an idea and growing it. And for good reason: when you are working on a project there is both scant time and the proper distance to reflect and write on the subject. I will attempt to do so with this blog.
For the sake of argument, I think of a project as an assemblage of capital and people around a shared vision in a compressed time frame in an attempt to create something that endures. This could be for the purposes of building a company or product, competing for a championship, making a movie, producing a work of art, or forming a joint venture. And, for the sake of argument, I define “success” as achieving the stated mission of the task at hand: a profitable company, a title or making the playoffs, an emotional connection, a product loved by millions, capital to shareholders.
Movies like Clerks, Blair Witch Project, Napoleon Dynamite, and Juno, to name a few from film, seem to come from nowhere on a bootstrap budget and an unproven team to rake in millions and to create a cultural phenomena. While the seemingly perfect equation of an award-winning writer, plus an Oscar-toting director, plus a cast of A-List actors and actresses can turn 3 years of hard work and $250MM into an unwatchable disaster like Ishtar. Why? The same situation applies and similar question can be asked of startups.
I am fascinated by the differences in career arcs: why success comes fast and furious to some on their first attempt, while others toil for years at their craft until they become an “overnight success.” Malcom Gladwell explains in Outliers that people reach their maximum talent potential after 10,000 hours of practice. But, why, then, do some bands become an instant sensation, never to reach that level again (ref: Oasis, Guns ‘n’ Roses), while others seem to get better with age (ref: U2) ? How do bands like Radiohead commit and discover their voice after 10 – 15 years of working together while the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin, decide that enough is enough? The same situation applies and similar question can be asked of startups.
Do some projects actually become less productive over time? Is there something that enables one group of people to learn and to grow together and improve, while another group self-destructs?
To be specific in the comparison to the Internet startup industry, why did eBay become successful while dozens of other auction sites floundered? Why did Amazon, PayPal, Craigslist, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Zappos similarly break away from the competition? Why does a site like MySpace breakthru only to retreat years later? Why do digital music startups attract millions of users but cannot create sustainable businesses? The reasons are all unique.
The great thing about being an entrepreneur and working in startups is that the take-aways from each of these situations are different. And you can’t apply the lessons learned from one circumstance and automatically apply it to similar one, even if the companies are trying to do the exact same thing. Externalities such as timing, competition, talent, capital, technology, Board dynamics, partnerships, luck- impossible to predict in advance and extremely difficult to change mid-course- all come into play in an infinite array of combinations.
I like looking at the world around me and questioning why things are the way they are and what I can do to make a difference in it. My goal with this blog is to surface and explore creative pursuits and to establish a dialogue around startups of all kind. I plan to post frequently so please subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for reading.