March 2014 Archives

"I've Never Heard Of That Before"

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In recent weeks, many people have asked me what I look for in startups today. My leading answer has become:

"I've never heard of that before!"

As I glance at the flow of accelerator demo day lists and what gets funded on popular news outlets which cover startups, my brain files away stuff that I see. Startups that do this, do that. I may not remember their names but only what they work on or do.

But every once in a rare while, I'll meet a startup working on something that I've never heard of before. I'll look into what my brain has filed away and can't even find someone working in a space that is close to it. This is what gets me excited - people working on projects with no competitors.

Back in the old days of venture capital, I heard that lack of competition was something they all looked for. It seemed very important back then as a way to maximize the odds of success. Certainly the world was less filled with startups of all sizes and shapes, which is very unlike today.

However, in today's world, I see people with multiple competitors get funded all the time. There seems to be the hope that maybe you invested in the winner and not the other guys. When I look, I just don't know if the startup I'm talking to is going to win, versus the other guys. It just seems too risky to me.

The world is way too filled with things for people to do, or choose from. This affects both consumer and B2B startups. Traction slows down and takes too long for startups to get to break-even or good enough metrics for the next round. When a product or service has other people working on the same or similar things, customers need to process "blur" and need to decide on whether they want to spend time to determine whether something truly is better or not. In my experience, most people just bail - and they wait until enough other people use something before they will even try it.

The only way to combat this is to present something to a customer that they have never heard of before. It must be so unique that the time to process is minimized. That gives them a leg up in acquiring customers. If there is no one else shouting/touting the same or similar product, then they can gain some initial traction without interference from others. They can pull out ahead before someone else gets the idea to build a competitor.

Some of you might think that is nearly impossible to find someone working on a product or service with no competitors. I think that is mostly true; the easy pickings are already being worked on many times over. And yes it's really hard and takes a lot of patience to wait for an encounter or it's a lot of work to go looking for them.

It's the big markets that have not been touched by and disrupted by new technologies that I'm excited about. A lot of that is in unsexy markets, things that definitely that newly graduated college kids will not have been exposed to. Some of them require a ton of time to dig into and understand. Some of them are so unsexy that it requires real effort to fall in love with!

Unicorn hunting is fun and all, but I prefer to look for my unicorns in places where hunters are not. My first attraction to a startup is most likely the realization I have never heard of their product/service before in an industry that hasn't been worked on yet. Then I rally the forces and dive deep from there.

Hiatus from Facebook and Twitter

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Last week I closed my browser windows with Facebook and Twitter in them, and shut down the same apps on my iPhone.

I was fed up. I found myself staring aimlessly at the feeds, scrolling and scanning updates from friends and links to stuff somebody thought I should read. I would waste tens of minutes out of my day, just doing nothing but scanning.

Nice to see what my friends were doing, but I also realized that FB and Twitter also minimized the need to actually see them in real life. I felt like I knew what they were doing, so why bother to try to meet up and catch up when I already knew what they were up to?

The links being sent around were getting more and more purposeless - many were just linkbait, trying to get me to take a look at some fantastic thing, which once you dug deeper was pretty inane and really meant nothing for my knowledge, but only sucked up more of my valuable time to go take a look.

So I left. It's been a week and an interesting one. There is a bit of withdrawal symptoms there but nothing I can't handle. But now I find myself doing more real world stuff to fill my time. Stuff like just getting up from sitting in front of my Mac and moving around. Practicing my movement skills: posture, sitting, standing, squatting, sometimes doing some pull ups or push ups, maybe a few one legged squats. Being not confined to the chair is truly refreshing.

I get on the floor and mess around with my kids. They don't see me in front of the Mac or staring mindlessly at my phone any more. I interact with them, let them climb all over me. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the triumphant giggles of a child who has climbed from the floor all the way to sit on top of your head!

I read the stack of virtual books in my Kindle - stuff I wasn't reading because I was mindlessly staring at status updates. How nice to read real writing and not the quick stuff that people just pump out there to get you to click and then make money off your ads…and your valuable attention.

Still I find that while I have not been to either site, I think there is still some value that may make me return. These would be:

1. Friends still message me on FB and DM me on Twitter. If that happens, I should go back to answer.

2. On FB pages, there are the equivalent of groups where I am a member. I may still need to go back to ask a question or reply.

3. Asking for advice is helpful on either platform. I may need to do that from time to time.

4. If I blog, like this post, I can get readership by posting there - assuming that after this post people still want to hear from me even though I've largely forsaken these two sites. I have a Socialflow account and can use that to find the optimal time to post a link. So as a distribution mechanism for blog posts, FB and Twitter still work well.

5. The one thing I have not found a great solution for is real news recommender. I went back to Netvibes to see if that would work but so many of the feeds were dead. And there is no filtering there. I am hoping my friends at Digg will revive News.me and get better at news delivery...and not linkbait delivery.

Yes I may go back for some things, but largely, I will not be mindlessly staring at feeds any more, but instead going out there and doing things I really need to be doing, spending time with real people, and enjoying the real world.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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