Sometimes, an investor gets lucky. They invest in a company with an idea that doesn't go anywhere, the company pivots, and you wind up in the next big thing.
In hindsight, an investor will tell you that they knew they had backed a great team and that was the key to the investment. It's never luck.
I have a lot of trouble with the "great team" scenario, because it just doesn't seem to play out in real life. What about when a company clearly makes a stupid acquisition? When they spend hundreds of millions to buy you only to turn off your product and shut it off later, were you a great team, but you wouldn't have been a great team if you ran out of money two weeks earlier?
Is greatness innate? Are you born to be an entrepreneur?
Why don't all the people who have "great" entrepreneurial qualities succeed? Wouldn't there be some test you could give all first time entrepreneurs to gage their entrepreneurial prowess to understand how good they'll be at running a company?
It feels like a lot of hocus pocus half the time--where we mistake agressiveness and ambition for qualities of good management in startups. Maybe that's why half the time it seems that entrepreneurs are getting in trouble these days--because investors aren't as good as we think they are at funding the kind of people you want to back.
Adam D'Augelli, a very smart investor over at True Ventures, mentioned to me the other day something that rang true--that the best entrepreneurs update their investors with metrics, not stories. That made a lot of sense to me, but what also led from that was the idea that watching metrics was a habit, not something you're born with. It's something that anyone can get into the habit of doing. Knowing your metrics and following them is a discipline and being disciplined is really what being a manager is all about. Do you create processes that bring the right people to your company? Do you create processes that allow them to communicate well with each other and execute? The thing that makes a team more than just a collection of individuals is a system.
The best entrepreneurs I've worked with have great habits and they create great habits in their companies. They have a way to do just about everything--including how they go about learning what they don't know. Good learning habits are key to success, because no one is born knowing everything.
I like this habit model of great entrepreneurs because it means anyone can get their given determination and discipline. It makes greatness accessable.
It's the same with culture. Culture isn't innate to a company--it's a series of habits and practices. It derives from conscious language choices when you hear from management both in public and private--from where incentives are placed, and related to how much emphasize is put on values, communication, and mutual respect. It doesn't just happen. It's a habitual practice.
It's very similar to my own experience with running.
When you're younger, so much of your physical ability derives from the randomness of who sprouts up earlier, who was born just before the cutoff and happens to be almost a year older than everyone, etc. Over time, those advantages disappear as the playing field evens out. Your ability to be a good runner at the recreational level, as you get older, has more to do with your diet and exercise routine than it has anything to do with genetics. In the top 1%, that might not hold, but I'm routinely finishing around the top 5% of my races these days without ever having been anything in the realm of being a top athlete when I was younger. I'm just a lot more disciplined than a lot of my 30-something peers these days, and that's a big advantage.
Greatness is a practice that anyone can achieve. I like it better that way.
The Cost of a College Education
I just looked up how much my alma mater costs in tuition. Fordham University, the 56th best college in the country, is now $44,000 a year. That's a 6% annual increase since 1997 when I started and it was $16,000 a year. Take that forward to when my future kid might be going to school and you're talking $141,000 a year tuition.
What in the world could college possibly do for you to justify over half a million dollars in cost. There's no way anyone will be able to economically justify that cost. Hell, it would be cheaper just to hire private tutors in every subject and pay for the kid to live in a cheap apartment somewhere. There's no way the college cost bubble won't implode.
Diabetes rates, especially among kids, are off the charts and at some point, we're going to have to get serious about eating real food and exercising. You'll see more and more companies like Tinkergarten that motivate kids and parents to get out of the house and out from behind the screen. Maybe we'll figure out the ice bucket challege for heart disease, but if we don't turn our attention from long tail diseases that affect 30,000 people annually, a dozen potential ISIS trained Americans living somewhere in the US and the infintissimally small threat of child kidnapping, we'll figure out how to address the #1 cost burden on our healthcare system and actual killer of humans.
Look around the next time you go into a restaurant. Both adults and kids are face down in their phones--swiping, liking, texting, etc. Up to a quarter of auto crashes involve cell phones these days. It's even causing marital difficulties as partners are complaining that their spouses just aren't present in the small amount of personal time they have together. We're soon going to realize that we don't need every single notification at every single moment and the phones will get put away in favor of devices like Ringly that screen the world and filter notifications to right time/right place.
The idea of a channel that you pay for over and above just a data pipe is definitely going to go the way of the printed local newspaper. When I can download any show, why am I paying for the channel that carries the show?
The Release Cycle of Content
It's already happening. Look at House of Cards--the full season gets released all in one day. Soon, someone is going to enable me to pay $50 to watch Guardians of the Galaxy in my house the day it gets released. Companies like Drip create a direct relationship between creators and content where you could send something to your fans every week instead of going through traditional channels to create and launch an album.
One day, we'll mostly be freelancers, floating from project to project--and the idea that you only do one thing, working for a company will be the exception rather than the rule.
One day, no one is going to give a crap what you do on your own time. You'll elect a single, atheist President or someone in an open relationship and it just won't matter to anyone. The idea that we cared that anyone did anything that isn't any worse than stuff we've done will be a moot point.
This list needs no explanation:
1) You need a technical co-founder.
2) We're really interested in what you're up to, but would love to see just a little more traction before we fund it.
3) No one else can do this.
4) We decided not to charge our initial customers.
5) It's easier to get funded on the west coast.
6) This is projected to be a $54 billion dollar industry by 2019.
7) Google can't do this.
8) We're oversubscribed in this round.
9) We wouldn't take $30 million if someone offered to buy us right now.
10) We only fund great entrepreneurs.
11) This accelerator is really hard to get into.
12) We're using lean startup methodology.
13) Google will have to buy us.
14) I built that entire business for my previous company.
15) We have an agency that is going to distribute us to all the major brands, so we fully expect huge distribution and revenue in the next year.
16) We're not raising money right now.
17) We have proprietary technology.
18) We need to move fast otherwise we'll miss this opportunity.
19) And we haven't even spent money on marketing.
20) We're getting a lot of interest from top investors.
21) Once these big customers start using what we have, they're going to switch right away.
22) Every small business is going to sign themselves up.
23) People need a convenient way to have everything in one place.
24) We won't need to raise any more money after this round.
25) Richard Branson is really interested in what we're doing.
The nature of work is changing--we all know that. You're required to be a lot more entrepreneurial, which requires you to build your own networks in order to get customers and collaborators, since these functions won't be under the roof of a big company anymore.
You'll need to be more mobile, nimble, and able to go where the work is. You'll need to think globally.
You will need to be a continuous learner, willing to pick up new skills as the world changes around you--meaning that your sources of education won't necessarily be accredited academic institutions.
This is all pretty obvious, and has been for a while, right?
So how does this respond to how we seem to be teaching our kids?
Well, for starters, each generation seems to be facing a shrinking, not growing world. Below is a graphic from a DailyMail article that shows how far kids in a family were allowed to roam as eight year olds.
Could you imagine letting an eight year old roam eight miles away these days? You'd probably get arrested for child neglect. However, how prepared was that kid for the rest of life after making those trips, compared to kids today that rarely ever leave the house on their own? How prepared are kids today to face a global world when they can't walk off of their own block.
How likely are they to become lifelong learners when we've never had more emphasis on standardized testing, and therefore standardized learning? The school we create for kids now makes them want to be done with school as soon as possible.
It's like when people ask me how to get into venture capital. They're always asking about the right way to do it, how to get an interview--all these very structured ways of approaching a system. When I tell them stuff about adding value to the community, creating a personal brand, etc., it just doesn't compute. Nothing that I ever did to get where I am in venture was difficult or special--but none of it was anything you really learn in a classroom.
The world we're heading into requires a highly visible, highly network, flexible risk taker with a global perspective. Yet, it feels like the US is churning out kids who never venture outside of their suburban housing development on their own who look for authoritative structures to fit themselves into and are taught to fear strangers, domestic and abroad.
Because, you know, who doesn't love a good startup list.
1) Figure out who has written about companies like yours and reach out--when you don't need something.
Think about who else is in your space--other wearables companies, companies also focused on the smart home, you name it. Those are going to be the reporters who are most likely willing to write about you. When you've got that list together, just individually e-mail as many of them as you can. Just introduce yourself and offer yourself up as a resource.
"Hi, I just wanted to thank you for covering this space. I like the angle you took on this particular article/I appreciate that you've taken the time to highlight what all these companies are doing because others aren't/something nice about the reporter's effort. I know all of these companies and a lot of others that are popping up because I have X expertise and experience, so if I can ever be a resource to you, even on background, please do feel free to contact me. I've included a short list below of a few 1-2 sentence thoughts, predictions, or generally crazy ideas that I don't think are shared by my peers about where the space is going to give you a sense of what my perspective is.
I'm actually starting a company/have started a company in this space and don't have anything to share at the moment, but will at some point would love to be able to share our funding news, product launches, or maybe collaborate with other companies on trend pieces in the space."
This way, the journalists most interested in what you're up to reveal themselves by engaging with you based on that note--and you've given them a reason to contact you. Maybe the fact that you think that Amazon will get into Cleantech for some crazy reason or that phone numbers will eventually disappear in favor of just connecting to people or companies will strike a chord--or maybe even inspire a future article.
2) Follow journalists on Twitter and Instagram
These folks are real humans as well and they have interests outside of tech. If they're a sports fan, also like stand up paddling or just took an amazing trip to a place you love, note it in your interaction with them. Find other reasons to connect with them. They'll remember you as the other long suffering Mets fan and you'll have a reason to connect up that doesn't involve them covering your funding announcement. Plus, they'll see you as the reasonable/fun/kind/positive/whatever kind of person you are and be more willing to help you out versus assuming you're just some spoiled millennial that WANTS COVERAGE NOWWWWWW because you're special. Brat.
3) Split up the story.
Your launch isn't just a launch. It's eight different things.
It's a story of a mechanical engineer turned startup entrepreneur who has seen how NYC actually works (and built a company to help it run smooth) from as deep undergroud as the East Side Access Project under Grand Central and as high as the roof of the NY Times building. (See Mike Brown from Logcheck.)
It's the story of your customers--the ice cream shop owner and dog groomer who now use your technology to gain new customers, because tech savvy small business people could be interesting when they have quirky businesses.
It's the story of your particular view on hiring your tech co-founder and how it paid off.
It's how the future of TV is in your phone and why they'll stop making remotes one day in favor of apps, like your app.
Bounce ideas off of others try to figure out all of the different ways that your company is interesting, so that you can divide and conquer. If the only story is that you got funded, that's not as interesting for 25 reporters to cover versus each of them covering something uniquely crafted for their audience and interest.
4) Collaborate with other startups.
Journalists love when news fits a trend. A trend, in case you don't know, is when something doesn't just have to do with your cruddy little startup but when eight other cruddy little startups are all doing something the same way that is new, or assumes a new behavior from customers, or is reflective of something new in the industry. Work with other companies to share contact lists, introduce each other to other reporters, and to pitch things together. You can't get a story just about you in the press everyday, but a reporter has to write something every day--so how can you help them fit your news in a context and have something to write about when they're not writing about you.
5) Create an editorial schedule.
You had a great launch. Now what? What is anyone going to say about you for the next six months week in and week out. If you don't plan it out, it's not going to happen that way. Think about what you want people saying about you and what is reasonable to say about you over time. Sometimes, often times, that means you'll be the one saying it--through blog posts, videos, etc... but it needs to be a story arc about your company so that you don't front load everything for the week that some internet CEO gets tragically crushed by a stack of servers.Save & Close