David Fisher once wrote “What often characterizes visionaries is their lack of vision. It’s a popular idea that people of genius see farther and clearer than other people, but perhaps the truth is actually the opposite. Visionaries often don’t notice the enormous and obvious impediments to realizing their technological dreams – roadblocks apparent to more practical people”.
Have you ever read The AltaVista Search Revolution? Is there any argument that AltaVista’s search engine was a spectacular idea ahead of the market that Google later seized?
I am asked all the time for “What’s the one simple thing that makes a successful startup”. I’ve written and tweeted about about passion, laser focus, speed, agility, leadership but to be clear there is no formula for startup success; Statistically, startup success is a rare and exceptional event. Entrepreneurs are rightfully focused first on innovative ideas, but the genius is seeing the market timing and having the discipline to be ready for it.
When entrepreneurs are in the early stages of vetting their ideas, they are typically very focused on solving a problem that people with money very much want solved; In other words, do you need to use this and how much will you pay for it? Often the pitch deck’s market slides describes broad, existing markets. But pattern recognition using broad historic inspection and patterns are nearly useless for predicting rare future events. Often sufficient conditions are just emerging and predicting scale is nearly impossible. We all know that technology will be mobile, location-based, social and fully personalized – lots of successful startups will be built along the way, but when?
Again, the genius is seeing the market timing *and* having the discipline to be ready for it. This means, manage your resources accordingly. The basics are emerging trends usually take longer than the enthusiastic entrepreneur expects, so keep that burn low, lengthen the runway, work hard/smart and be patient. If you’re entering a market that is already trending, you should ramp aggressively.
Finally, sometimes random, unexpected and uncontrollable events make significant changes to market conditions. Sometimes these events are favorable, some will say “lucky” and sometimes these are catastrophic – for example, the events of 911 crushed the financial markets and nailed the dot-com coffin closed.
More than once, I’ve found myself significantly out in front of the market, then the real challenges and tough decisions take place.