There’s a whole lot of tools we have at our disposal which didn’t even exist a few years ago. From a business perspective many of them present a counter intuitive option to the ‘Harvard Industrial Complex’. Yes, those established principals of what we thought we already knew about what worked in the market.
Trust the crowd to co-design our product? Are you crazy?
Get funding from future customers with out giving equity? How we going to do that?
Share revenue with content creating customers? Don’t be silly let’s keep it all for ourselves.
Co-opt with our competitors to grow the entire ecosystem? No way, let’s grow our market share instead.
Launch products with lower margin than those they’ll cannibalise? It’s uneconomic and stupid.
When the world changes, what once seemed ridiculous quickly becomes rational. Startups are now redefining what can work in a world driven by cheap and even disposable technology. It turns out having access to the new tools is not enough, we also need access to a new mindset.
There are lots of ways entrepreneurs can make money. Some even have a valid legal status, but with questionable ethics. But all businesses which survive have some kind of value transfer. The real question worth asking is this:
Was there more value in total after we got involved?
If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then we’ve done much more than just make money.
The journey we are on is often associated with some goal at the end point. But what if the end point was now? What if we took a thought experiment and pretended the journey was unnecessary? Let’s do that and ask ourselves these two seemingly unrelated questions:
- How would you spend your time if you had 6 months to live?
- How would you spend your time if you were a billionaire?
I won’t try and answer these for you, but I’m reasonably certain you’ll find two things. Many of the answers overlap, and that many of the things cost very little money. In the end we remind ourselves that the ultimate asset is time.
Ok, I couldn’t resist to give personal answer here: I know I’d want to invest more time with my family, immediate and wider, and do those projects were the business model is fun and not financial. Oh, and all those billionaires we hear about…. they’re probably off on treks riding motorcycles across China. Something which requires very few zeros in a bank account.
What we actually get paid for is all the work we did yesterday, and the day before that, and the year before that. In fact, what we get paid for is the work we did when no one was watching and no one was paying.
I remember growing up having people tell me it’s all about who you know in life and business. I always thought it was kinda weird that it could work in your favour by just knowing people who could help you, especially if you happened to be a fool. Surely domain knowledge mattered more? And here is what I found out, they both have value.
But what has even more value is when we use which ever we have more of to improve on the other. This tends to happen when we learn from those we’re lucky enough to know, or use our knowledge to help whoever we meet.
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As soon as we think of an amazing startup idea the first thing we often do is trawl the internet to see if someone has already built the app, the service ,the hardware device. We want to know if it has already been done. Oft times, we are deflated to find out it has been. But if we have to search, has it really been done? If no one knows about a concept in market it raises a lot of interesting questions:
Did they execute well against the idea?
Is their product good, but the distribution poor?
If the distribution is poor, does that mean the product is actually bad?
If the distribution is poor, does that mean it’s not solving a real problem?
If the distribution and product are both good, are the switching costs too high?
Did the team have the right funding?
If they had the funding is the timing too soon – is the market ready?
The truth is we’ll never be able to answer these and other questions. And so it brings us back to the very first moment of inspiration. We thought it was a great concept and maybe that is enough. We know most things change their shape in the development process anyway. Maybe we should build it regardless of what is out there. Build our version of how things could be. Remembering of course that most fortunes are made with old ideas done better. Property is the oldest business in the world and still to this day creates the most millionaires. Even Youtube, a new kinda business, arrived when there were already over 400 video sharing websites (that we know of).
It’s another reminder our world is big on ideas and small on execution.
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A lot of the new technology seems to do the opposite of what it ought to. A kind of paradox is emerging where the solution is so good in the short term, that it eventually eats itself. It solves the problem so well, at such a low price ,that the solution gets buried. Buried deep inside a pool of self perpetuating technology.
Omni social connectedness –> loneliness epidemic.
Mass amounts of data –> lack of useful insight.
Dropping prices of everything we buy –> increasing debt bondage.
Worlds knowledge mere clicks away –> decline in human wisdom.
Private transport for everyone –> longer travel times.
This list could go on, but you get the picture. It seems like we should revisit the tools every now and again to make sure they’re making life better. And it is from this that the new startup opportunities arise. For every tech rush, there’s a new opportunity in fixing the part of it which is no longer working.