Yesterday, I had an amazing call with a guy with thirty years experience in the recruiting market. For years, he had a vision of a service doing exactly the kind of things we plan to do with Path 101--not necessarily on the helping people figure out what they want to do side, but on the data-centric, getting to know candidates better side. We saw completely eye to eye on how badly this market needs to do more than figure out eighty different ways to smash a resume and a job post together, or mindlessly connect people without adding intelligence to the process. What he also believed in, which we do strongly, was that it needed to be a service people opt-in to--something that provides value to the user every step of the way, encouraging them to participate more and submit more information about themselves.
What was amazing was that this guy went the distance in terms of describing the power of the vision--referring to it as "one of those four or five big stories..."--while at the same time, he realized that we needed to take small steps to get there, but that directionally we were in the right place. At one point, the grokking was so intense, we had to pull back and say, "Hey, we need to pull back and let this sink in... let's talk next week."
While I absolutely believe Path 101 can be one of those companies, there's never been a purpose to describe it as such to anyone like that, particularly investors. In fact, going through the fundraising process actually forces you into quite the opposite mode of thinking. Your grand vision starts slowly dying a death by a thousand cuts. They start nitpicking on features they dislike, or question how long it will take before you drive revenues, or they want to know how are you going to get people to come to the site. (Which is the most ridiculous question of all time, because every single company has the same answer--SEO, social media tools, PR, or some kind of partnership...and maybe some traffic purchasing... what other traffic is there? Doesn't everyone say the same thing?)
Eventually, you find yourself thinking smaller--that if you can't find anyone to believe your big world-changing vision, you try to convince people of small things--how you just want to get to the next product step, how you can pull down some low hanging fruit revenue, etc. God forbid you should look out further than your next financing in your plan--well don't bother because who's going to believe you, right?
Meanwhile, I was at a panel discussion with four VC's and some of them were talking about "Web 2.0" deals and how they need to do extra diligence on the mindset of the entrepreneur because they need to make sure they're in it to build a big company and don't want the quick flip. Well, how many game changing companies out there had a clear path to the world changing vision at the point of their angel round?
Perhaps the reason why so many Web 2.0 companies are small ideas and quick flips is because we've never had so much transparency into the VC mindset as we have now, and what entrepreneurs are hearing isn't "Think big", but "What can you show me now?" Well, big takes time, and small can be built on Ruby-on-Rails this weekend... and don't expect small to resist a $30 million sale to a media company. Thus far, no new potential investor has flat out asked me how Path 101 changes the world, and only one has even come close to turning the conversation into how big this gets.
del.icio.us, for example, was a company where lots of people scratched their heads and said, "Bookmarking? I don't get it," while at the same time, others, like those of us at Union Square Ventures, thought that people-powered search and discovery was a potential game changer and maybe even a Google-killer.
The key is finding that one person who believes in that vision like you do--even if you haven't previously been #2 at Paypal or built Skype or whatever. It's hard to do that as part of this process. I told this guy yesterday that while I totally believed in this vision, as CEO, I also had to deal with the harsh reality that the well runs dry in January, and so no one's changing any worlds without some more cash. Walking in the door and saying, "I know we're in Alpha and rolling out our product at the moment, but here's how this changes the world", unfortunately, isn't usually the path to solving that immediate need.
I wonder if your expected value increases if you grab your pick ax and go find that one person who believes in the big vision, versus thinking small and incremental and showing what you can do tomorrow so someone will fund you today. Companies would certainly behave very differently depending on what kind of feedback they get from their supporters, and so I wonder how much the early exit/flip Web 2.0 small idea mentality is a product not of entrepreneurs but of the investment community itself.
Of course, I really don't want to just come off like I'm complaining. If you know me, you know I always look for actionable next steps anytime I see an issue. For me, what this whole experience has me doing is thinking about ways I can better convey the vision and end goal to the folks who need to see what that first step on the path looks like. Sometimes, though, its just nice to get unbridled support on the vision rather than just spend 99% of your time defending the product plan.