Keeping a Dynamic Perspective

Roald Amundsen and his team viewing their flag planted at the South Pole in 1911

I recently read an article by Professor Morten T. Hansen (a pedagoge from that rival school up north!) published in the Harvard Business Review about the rivalry of the polar explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.  The former Norwegian explorer became the first person to conquer the South Pole.  The latter arrived at the South Pole only to see his rival’s flag and to die eleven miles from a supply depot on his return journey.

The article provides a number of interesting explanations for Amundsen’s triumph and Scott’s contrasting failure as they relate to business.  However, Professor Hansen’s most poignant gem seems to be added as barely as side note in his conclusion:

Like the best business leaders we studied, Amundsen “zoomed out” (what’s the new situation?), then “zoomed in” (redirect to the South). When a big change or opportunity came along, they took a step back, assessed the new situation, asked whether it called for a change, and if it did, then made the change and zoomed in to execute brilliantly.

In 1980, IBM managers visited a company called Digital Research to use its CP/M operating system for the new personal computer. But that meeting didn’t go well, and the IBMers turned to Microsoft in frustration, but Microsoft was not in that business. In that moment, Bill Gates zoomed out, recognized the opportunity, then zoomed in to deliver an operating system — which became Windows. Great leaders zoom out, then zoom in to confront disruption and change.

Amundsen conquered the South Pole and lived. Scott lost the race and died. Are you — and the leaders around you — an Amundsen or a Scott?

The best leaders, he says zoom out to see the big picture and then zoom in to execute upon it. The example he provides about Microsoft is especially illustrative.

In Silicon Valley, I meet a lot of people who wow me by drawing the most insightful observations from current events and society.  I meet others that can lock down in a little room and code something that might take me years in a matter of minutes. But it is the people who can do both or build teams that can do both who are the ones I see in the tech news.

##

Thanks to Kyle Wong for the article.

David Friedberg at Stanford’s ETL Series: What is a Founder?

The below post was written on Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Lecture Series and was posted on the Stanford Technology Ventures Program Blog on December 5th.

It is raining on the first day of Stanford’s DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series, and it couldn’t be more fitting for today’s speaker.  David Friedberg is the CEO of The Climate Corporation (formerly WeatherBill), a weather insurance company. In fact, David came up with his original idea for WeatherBill on a rainy day in San Francisco.

“Founder isn’t really a role.  It’s really not a role that I like.”On his daily commute through San Francisco, Friedberg noticed that rain regularly closed down a bicycle shop that caters to tourists.  Soon after, Friedberg would go on to found The Climate Corporation on the observation that so many businesses are affected by the weather. But David Friedberg hates being called a founder.  In fact, he says that when his venture capitalists introduce him as the “founder” of The Climate Corporation, he tells people, “Founder isn’t really a role.  It’s really not a role that I like.”

David Friedberg Stanford ETL

David Friedberg speaking at Stanford ETL

Friedberg is a person focused on solving problems.  He describes this as “revealing truth and fact,” and he doesn’t hang on to the founder title like others do.  Instead, he is practical.  He takes the executive position bluntly stating that “I’m the CEO of the company today, and I might not be the best CEO tomorrow.”  He is blissfully truthful about his no nonsense role in the company.

He has built a multimillion dollar funded company in a short while, pulled everything together, and readily admits he would be ready to remove himself if/when he is no longer the right person for the job. That is a really intimidating statement to hear, especially coming from someone as obviously talented as Friedberg.

Listening to Friedberg, I sheepishly think of my own LinkedIn profile, where the title of  “Founder” is plastered in at least one or two places in connection with some of my previous side projects.  I am tempted to skirt over to my profile for some quick resume tidying, but then a question comes to mind:  What is a founder?

Continuing with his lecture, Friedberg projects two pictures on screen for the audience. One of the pictures is of a “rock star” founder, just having made his exit – an image commonly featured by Fast Company and Forbes.  The other picture is of the archetypal “real” founder, sleep deprived, running on caffeine, and near the end of his rope.

Seasoned entrepreneurs, CEOs, professors and founders alike tell us that the “rock star” picture is a fantasy.The former image is a Silicon Valley dream boy, a ubiquitous legend not only in the Valley, but also in pop culture.  It is simultaneously the joke of Silicon Valley, while inadvertently being a false representation of the Valley and the entrepreneurial community at Stanford.  Seasoned entrepreneurs, CEOs, professors and founders alike tell us that the “rock star” picture is a fantasy.

The second of David Friedberg’s pictures looks more like a Stanford computer science student scraping away at the last bugs in a systems assignment, or in Friedberg’s case, a startup.  In fact the difference between the two might be minuscule.  Students straining on Redbull aren’t much different than those founders pulling late nights on Starbucks. This latter image is a dose of reality, and Friedberg has some statistics to further the point.

According to Friedberg, the odds of starting a company and having it be worth $1 billion dollars in 49 months after founding are about 0.0006%.  After accounting for average dilution, this is the equivalent of earning a $73,000 annual salary. But you also have a 67% chance of making absolutely nothing at all. The audience laughs at this, but are we convinced?

It seems there are more people in my Stanford class who are going to be “founders” than employees.  I have more Silicon Valley business cards with “founder” on them than anything else.  And how often do you hear the phrase “YC Founder” from Y-Combinator, Paul Graham’s premier accelerator? Sometimes I wonder how we have anything but single person LLCs in Silicon Valley. Stanford and Silicon Valley rightly lionize the act of taking initiative, but where is the line between taking initiative to solve real problems and taking initiative for initiative’s sake?

A trend of some of the friends/entrepreneurs I look up to most is to label themselves “janitor at Stealth Startup” on their LinkedIn profiles.  It’s a humorous, self- deprecating poke at their predicament.  Janitors clean up messes.  It isn’t a frilly job, but a janitor’s role is indispensable.  To put it simply, janitors solve problems.

“I don’t want to say be entrepreneurial,” says David Friedberg.  “I want everyone in this room to walk away from this discussion today, reflective about what it is you want out of life and then make a choice that is based on some of the things that I am trying to tell you about today.”

As the lecture ends, the rain gives the crowd a break as they trickle from NVIDIA Auditorium on the Stanford campus. The crisp California evening air brings clarity, and I am reflecting on Friedberg’s advice.

And weighing a career in janitorial work.

John YS

My English Teachers Were All Right, They Were Just Teaching Me All Wrong (What Everyone Should Know About English Class)

My English teachers were all right, they were just teaching me all wrong…

Education + code + writing = a deadly combination


Wisdom from Stackoverflow

I wish I had read this post by Jeff Atwood of Stackoverflow when I was in middle school. In it, he stresses the importance of written communication for coders, but from my perspective his argument holds for achieving just about any significant task that includes more than a single person. One of humanity’s fundamental assets is our ability to work together, but part of efficient collaboration is having the ability to clearly communicate our ideas to other people.

East Coast Education

My East Coast education always stressed the importance of writing. In elementary and middle school, English teachers were equivalent of the clergy during the Catholic Church’s political dominance in medieval Europe wielding (what I believed at the time) to be a vastly unreasonably large influence. I preferred the far more interesting and “productive” activities available such as programming calculator games in Math class and hustling trading cards during recess and later the hard sciences where I could (a bite often more challengingly) gauge my progress in objective test scores rather than the subjective grades of my humanities teachers. Yet, like any good East Coast overachiever I listened to my elders, sucked it up, and to quote Martin Hu of Tezzit shoved my healthy dose of writing down my throat “like vitamins.” (Outside of subjective standards) writing wasn’t that bad, my teachers just never presented it as being applicable outside itself.

Whereas I was taught to change compounds in chemistry, chart trajectories in math, and (attempt to) predict the future in history, no one ever showed me how do anything with my writing in English class other than “write.” You could write an article. You could write a book. You could write a paper. But the option of doing something with the writing was never explicitly conveyed.

You’ll Never Regret Those Vitamins (no matter how much you hate them)

When I left the East Coast, I had some delusion that I would somehow outrun writing. The last thing I expected was to voluntarily work at it like my life depends on it. Why?

1) I want to bring people together to get things done. It is unbelievable how important and sometimes challenging effective communication can be. You need to be able to communicate ideas to your teammates, your advisors, your investors, and most importantly your customers.

2) I’ve realized that some of the most amazing people I know can not only code like heck, but are also avid writers. To name a few:

  • Professor Eric Roberts – Legendary CS faculty at Stanford and twice my professor (for the humanities AND computer science).
  • Anthony Mainero – One hour talking to my classmate and you know you have met a genuine polymath in the making.
  • Andrew Brown – The reason I can’t stop talking about Missouri while in California.

3) Exposure to advice like Jeff Atwood’s post or Jack Dorsey’s ETL talk has shown me the real life applicability of writing outside the classroom. Effective writing and communication can reign in a startup team going in 100 directions onto a single, focused path; a masterful narrative can win over a customer or investor; and (I like to dream) one day eloquent prose may win the heart of a special someone.

The last reason is one which I wish I believe EVERYONE who has ever taken a pen and paper to the written English language (or any language for that matter) should internalize as early as they can in their life. It’s something that my English teachers never taught me. Truly understanding the applicability of their field would have been a whole new level of motivation to learn their art. Perhaps it is unusual for me to have this a personal “ah ha moment” after almost two decades of education, but I am so glad I did.

So to My English Teachers:

Yes, you were teaching me it all the wrong way.

Yes, I admit English is useful after all.

Yes, you will have the last laugh reading this post, but I am eternally grateful you taught me, and thank you 100 fold for giving me those tough tasting vitamins!

Going Up the Mountain to See a Guru: A Visit to Professor Steve Blank’s Ranch

Steve Blank, mountain, ranch, bus, stanford, John

I can only describe my visit to Professor Steve Blank’s ranch today as spiritual.

A couple dozen scrappy and hopeful entrepreneurs bussed from the speed of Silicon Valley out into a hidden section of California countryside sheltered (as with many bubbles around Stanford) like a bubble within a bubble. The rolling green curves up along the gentle mountainside that we traversed were like surreal scenes from another world that only hours ago had been the power projecting stones that made up the offices of Sand Hill Road.

We were greeted at the door of a pristine white compound by the professor, himself, flanked by Highland Capital’s Dan Rosen and Robert Greenglass asking us to shed our shoes as we entered the house, just as we had let go of our cell phone service venturing out into the bucolic landscape.

Standing in the main foyer of the Blank compound, I could not help but be struck by the space’s beautiful simplicity.

Steve Blank’s ranch is a quintessential Silicon Valley landmark.  It is a kind of modern monument to the larger than life legend of a living man who is too big to believe exists, and yet teachers only one room down from your math lecture hall.  Secluded from the bustle of Silicon Valley and perched among the clouds, it’s white walls and wooden inner roof remind me of a modern Mount Olympus or contemporary hall of Norse gods complete with a carefully camouflaged sound system and state of the art T1 cable connectivity.

“This is the end of the journey [of entrepreneurship],” Professor Blank jocularly announced to us while gesturing to his abode – and what an end it is!

The twenty or so of us young souls who had gathered to seek wisdom from this guru of entrepreneurship shuffled about to find our prepackaged lunches (the last visages of civilization imported into this foreign realm) and took our seats looking out the crystal clear windows into the rolling green grass, the brilliant blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and the man in front of it all about to tell us some of the war stories through which he came into such things.

Professor Blank’s presentation was nothing short of genius.  I have heard him speak a number of times before, but whether it was the setting or the day – I have never listened to him quite like this.  Among his famous concepts of the lean startup, he wove metaphors of bold Renaissance artists (Michelangelo), deaf composers (Beethoven), practicality, profanity, and politeness.  The clear sky and rolling clouds flowed behind him as if within his property he had nature itself at his disposal.

After what seemed like as soon as we had sat, but in which time we had gleaned a generously offered condensation of his lifetime of knowledge and experience, Professor Blank sent us on our way “like Greeks going off to war” with the experienced sage left behind in his venerable other-earthly seat of war spoils.

But before we left his mountain amid the clouds, the wise guru of startups imparted his one last, most important piece of wisdom:

“Whether you succeed or fail, it is your responsibility to pass your knowledge onto the next generation…Pay it forward.”

***

“Going off to war,” not battle.  Better said – as we descended the mountain – that we had climbed Mount Olympus to escape from struggle to seek war lore from a demigod who had graduated from it.  Now, our shoelaces retied and seats back in the bus, we descended once again into the fray.

The route back to Sand Hill was especially windy.  Our assembly had to pull over part way through to quell the turning in most everyone’s stomachs – a fitting physical metaphor for returning to our earthly domain in Silicon Valley’s trenches.

“Pay it forward.”

The words echo with me like an unfulfilled creed.  Will I ever reach a point many years from now that I might come close to fulfilling such a tall request that I might say I repaid the debt I have to Professor Blank and others who have imparted their wisdom upon me only in my very short time in the Valley?

Sometimes I feel like I am standing on the edge of a cliff ready to jump off and build my plane, then I realize that I am actually standing on the last one I built, so I jump off and try to make a better one.

Every one that fails puts me one more closer to succeeding.  I thrive on building that next plane in the jump.  I have been lucky enough to meet the guru on the mountain, and it makes me burn with passion inside that much more.

When Life Moves (Almost) Too Fast to Write About It

SVI Hackspace at Huang Engineering Center

Moonlighting at the SVI Hackspace in Huang Engineering Center at Stanford.

I think I might be busier during the summer than the school year. In just under a week, SVI Hackspace has launched, a few apps look like they will be hitting Apple’s store in the coming weeks, we just developed some software that will aid in reshaping Egypt and possibly Kenya’s constitutions among other things with Stanford’s Liberation Technologies department, I met a diplomat just back from service in Afghanistan, reconnected with many old friends, helped too many new friends move out into summer residences, and have cranked in research and writing on electronic medical records.

(Did I mentioned I am working on a major paradigm shift to improve efficiency in my daily workflow?)

It’s 2:51 a.m. in the hackspace, and I am riding the startup roller coaster that is life.

Let’s go!

John YS

How Many Hits Will This Blog Post Get?

"Why You Make This List" Courtesy of Mike Liu, and sent earlier on the thread

Stanford students just found a public mailing list that mails to every since undergrad in the school.  The immature college bantering on the thread is amusing, but I’m curious, how many people are watching?  And how many people will actually click on a link posted to the entire school?  Perhaps there is something entrepreneurial to be learned from how college students in one of the most connected universities in the world make use of a silly mistake made by the Stanford IT department.

Note: I apologize in advance for contributing to the spam of messages, but I can’t help but take the opportunity for a quick experiment!

(I’ll post the results of how many hits this post later this week)

John YS

BASES Mixer at Highland: Finding Friends Where You Least Expect Them

I seem to be having a serendipitous streak in the Valley.  One thing leads to the next and I am continually surprised by what a wonderful, welcoming, and exciting world it can be.

Attendees mix at Highland Capital Partner's offices on Sandhill Road

Who Knew?

I’d been in contact with Alison Howard, Highland Capital Partner’s awesome East Coast Office Manager and Executive Assistant, for the a few weeks planning the recent BASES-Highland Mixer.  After little more planning than usual for the East-West communication and the last minute snags that happen across Spring break (such as student tendencies to wait to the last minute to rush signups!), the event was finally set to go.  Then a couple days before the event, I curiously found HCP’s Senior VP @MichaelGaiss (whom I had never thought I met, but had a last name that I vaguely recognized) following me on twitter.

Not too long after, Alison sent me an email explaining and making all the work I had put into the mixer more than worth it.  It ended up that I had met Mr. Gaiss after all, in fact, he was the father of one of my good friends on my wrestling team from boarding school back East.  Sandhill Road was the last place I expected to run into such a close connection!

John Yang-Sammataro Name Tag, Highland Capital Partners BASES Mixer

Pinkberry anyone?

The mixer itself couldn’t have been better.  HCP General Partner Peter Bell exemplified the tight knit community and culture the firm cultivates with his warm welcoming speech, and we proceeded to delve into the kinds of insightful conversations between students, entrepreneurs, executives, and investors that never cease to intrigue me.

Outside the Tech Space

HCP’s team has a particularly unique perspective in Silicon Valley, not only because they are dually based on the East and West Coast, but also because their portfolio includes a number of successful consumer companies outside the tech space (City Sports, Guitar Center, and Pinkberry to name a few).  Other companies, such as Zoove, completely took me back by the revolutionary way the are taking their markets by leveraging existing technologies with sound business strategies that before were completely under utilized.  I have great respect for the what Zoove’s CEO, Tim Jemison, is currently building at his company.

Qihoo!

To top it off, Qihoo, one of HCP’s Chinese tech portfolio companies had just had a very successful IPO earlier that day – a celebratory mood was palpable in the air.  The night wound on in such high spirits that we almost forgot to call the bus on time to return to campus.  The HCP event was an excellent way to kick off BASES’s Spring quarter.  I look forward to working with Mr. Gaiss and Mr. Bell on some future projects and possibly stopping by to check out HCP’s Summer@Highland no strings attached entrepreneur launch pad this summer.

I really appreciate the effort of Alison and the Highland Team for making this happen, and I’ll remember to keep my eyes out for more serendipity this coming Spring in the Valley.  You never know when you might come across a familiar face.

Stay tuned!

John YS

1000 Miles an Hour in 100 Directions

Life in Silicon Valley moves at 1000 mph.  Life at Stanford goes in 100 directions.  The combination of the two can be a little fast paced at times!

ETL Lecture Hall

The ETL lecture is packed for one of our biggest guests this year...a recap post in the near future!

The past week has been filled with a work overload, a trustee dinner, some unbelievable people and conversations, and an explosion of ideas.  However, I’ve also been feeling the limits of going 1000mph in 100 directions.  Among the people I’ve encountered:  the first US Ambassador to one of my homelands ever to speak half my heritage’s language fluently and the co-founder (just barely missing from the picture above) of one (if not the) most highly valued company still yet to turn a profit (and speaking of money, he’s just made a huge splash in a certain rectangular market…can you guess?)! Life over the past few weeks has passed in a blur and looking back, I’ve realized that sometimes when you try to go in too many directions too fast you end just just staying right where you were.

One of the patterns I’ve realized among the world changing people I meet in the Valley each week is that everyone (from Mark Zuckerberg to ETL’s most recent guest) has a revolutionary insight in the world.  They gain it by being able to step back from the fast paced lives many of them live and look at their situation, our, situation and see what other’s can’t.  They spend time with friends, enjoy nature, go out to dinner, and take walks.  Sometimes to advance the pace of life, you need to be able to step away from it.

In the echo chamber of Silicon Valley where thousands of aspiring founders (me included) are zooming around like rubber super balls on steroids, the hardest thing isn’t going from 0 mph to 1000 mph in under sixty seconds; it’s dropping from 1000 mph to 0 mph in a heartbeat.

So I’m taking deep breath, catching up, and getting back on track.  There are startup opportunities to pursue, inspirational people to catch up with, and some really great posts waiting to be written once the mid quarter work crush passes!

John YS

VC Panel Recap at The Stanford Training Table

The VC panel last week might have been one of the most seemingly underprepared (and yet most meticulously behind-the-scenes-orchestrated) Valley events I’ve been to so far:

Dinner and a pitch from the other side of the table!

With the NextGen Conference in town, I was hosting PrintEco founders Arpan Shah and Tom Patterson.

Here’s what my afternoon schedule looked like:

12:12 PM             Receive a call from Arpan and attempt to describe the convoluted system of public transportation from SFO to Palo Alto

5:00 PM               Get back home, clean, and vacuum for guests. (Receive a phone call from Arpan that he and Tom are lost on Stanford campus—and they don’t even have any idea where they are in the labyrinth!

6:14 PM               Set up Arpan and Tom.  Learn about the awesome work they’re doing with PrintEco.

6:26 PM               They ask me about the Reverse VC event tonight.

6:26:05 PM         “Wait, it’s tonight?” [I check my email]

6:26:29 PM- “I’m introducing the moderators?!?”

Yet another reason why everyone in Silicon Valley is glued to their PDAs:

 

…You’re expected to check your email on every quarter of an HOUR.

 

(iPhones have 15 minute push notifications for a reason!)

The excitement getting there was well worth it as always.

After some initial mixing among interesting attendees—entrepreneurs, investors, and a few anomalous wealth management professionals (who weren’t quite sure why they were there)—I had the pleasure of passing the baton to Venture Beat editor Anthony Ha, and Mayfield Scholar Amy Saper to moderate the panel of venture capitalists.

Someone cracked the joke at the announcement of 30 second introductions that by virtue of being VCs all of them would go over, and I was extremely glad they did in the lighthearted mood.  As an entrepreneur, you often hear commentary on the market from the perspective of an entrepreneur or from the perspective of a VC trying to speak on trends that concern an entrepreneur.

However, it’s rarer that you hear an investor genuinely explain his or her perspective on the personal level: not just what they are looking for in a good investment, but what motivates them on a personal level (the small things make such a big difference).

It’s also quite eye opening seeing several investors from various backgrounds sitting at one table and realizing how differently individuals in such a small and close knit community have such different approaches to their work:

Meeting a family friend!

Deepak Kamra of Canaan Partners, who I serendipitously discovered is an extended family friend, highlighted some excellent advice on the power of leveraging one’s network of Professors, friends, and family to get one’s foot in the door with an intro (a reference from another entrepreneur or the CEO of a portfolio company is the best!)

Christine Herron of Intel Capital on the other hand encouraged students to take advantage of the status as Stanford students to connect with many people that she says she has a harder time getting a hold of now that she is a VC versus when she was a student.

Rudy Garza of G51 gave one of the most memorable stories of the night about a student who was persistent enough to show up to his offices to do everything from small jobs to gift wrapping presents—but soon surprised everyone by recruiting tens of thousands of dollars for a new fund of the Texas based firm—(needless to say he no longer wrapped gifts after that!)

Joel Yarmon of DFJ will be seeing my summer plans soon (and will be seeing many more I presume after explaining that he responds to almost every single email he receives!)

Of the panelists, Mark Suster of GRP Partners again impressed me as always with both his perceptive material and his willingness to give his honest opinion (no matter how hard a time the audience gave him).  Among other things, he stressed the importance of building a relationship with investors and “letting them know you’re human.”  I loved his analogy when he likened the VC-entrepreneur relationship to “dating rituals.”  His most memorable quotes of the evening:

“Get a date before you pop the question” (in reference to asking for funding) and explaining his hatred of email as “a to-do list.”

Most of all, I found his advice for entrepreneurs to ask investors for small actionable advice and then operate  upon it, one of the most valuable pieces of wisdom echoed by the rest of the panel which I took away from the night.

All the panelists echoed sound advice about general good manners, etiquette, reciprocity, and genuine time investments in relationships (before monetary investments in companies):

-Believe in what you’re doing

-Find ways to help VCs and they will help you!

-When meeting with a VC, be respectful of an investor’s time and be prepared.

-Give VCs credit where credit is due

And some bonus email hacks (the average VC gets 200+ emails a day):

-Intros are still golden

-A steady stream of emails over a couple week/months is good to get on the radar screen (a deluge is not)

-Don’t guilt trip on emails and remind the recipient that they haven’t replied

-Send an email during a commute (to Joel on his daily train ride) or at other times that someone might start reading email.  (Most people read their email inbox from top to bottom).

I came away from the night having gained more insight into the intricate inside culture of Silicon Valley, and having shared ideas and conversed with another group of innovative and exciting individuals whom I can’t wait to get to know better through more interaction in the Silicon Valley startup scene!

John YS

Mint and Taskrabbit: Why Business Development is NOT (or at least SHOULDN’T be) Dead

I think business development in much of Silicon Valley is currently trading WAY below its average AND real value, but as a judicious investor of my predications I’m not sure how bullish the future looks for one of the most undervalued and neglected aspect of many startups I’ve seen in recent months.

This winter break I had a lot of ideas floating in my head and bounced a bunch of them off a number of my peers while hearing many of their own, and one pattern stuck out at me like an atomic explosion:

Nearly everyone I talked to had at least one (and in many cases multiple) ideas for startups that already existed.

I completely agree with Meebo founder, Seth Sternberg‘s, wisdom when he says that every time you come up with a great idea, the conditions are probably such that maybe 10 other people in the world at the exact moment are thinking the exact same thing. It’s probably true that the overlapping startup ideas overlapped precisely because they are such good ideas. Many of the companies capitalizing on these startup ideas have build sizable businesses (particularly Mint.com which tracks personal financing and Taskrabbit which provides a platform for odd jobs).

However, what was most baffling to me was that none of my friends had ever heard of the startups which were using the ideas they were proposing.  It’s not that they saw particular ways to improve or out compete existing ideas. Those ideas had never reached them in the first place!

Most of the people I exchanged ideas with over December are well read and keep up to date on current news and trends (both serious and trivial). These people had these ideas because they were looking for something to fill needs that they personally had.

Doesn’t this make them the ideal target customers for the startups who are already implementing these ideas (sometime down to the very features and GUI)? It puzzles me how so many people who are actually actively searching for specific tools to add value to their lives aren’t easily finding those exact tools which are there on the internet and looking to be found!

Although I increasingly realize that everything is a Google search (or few) a way and that most consumers are too passive to get past one search that doesn’t return immediate results, business wisdom says the consumer is never wrong: There is no excuse for companies such as Mint.com and Taskrabbit.com not being at least known to potential customers who are practically doing half the work of advertising for them!

From my personal experience, the current prevailing attitude among many young entrepreneurs in the techspace right now question’s the value of having a strong business development skill set in a founding team. While I agree that in most cases the focus of a startup should be on the product first and the business afterwards, I think that many discount or are unaware of the genius nontechnical work that goes into many of the most successful and promising startups:

Facebook had and has a great product, but other similar products—which at some point in Facebook’s early development could be argued to be better than the social network giant (and some would argue have more merits today)—existed and exist. I would argue that Facebook spread rapidly not only because of its technical merits, but also because of its path of taking over colleges one by one before going for the world as a whole.

Other startups (social ones come to mind since many may assume that their adoption was just natural) such as the promising upstart Likealittle.com are considered to be viral. But behind that “viral-ness” unbeknownst to many users is usually a genius marketer, businessman, and plan (such as Likealittle CEO, Evan Reas, and his team of hundreds of cofounders at the schools where his product is taking off).

It’s important to focus on the product, but it is also (I would argue) just as important for companies with innovative products like Mint and Taskrabbit to take an indication from their potential customers, and make sure that people can use the awesome technology that they are building.

Just as execution is at least as important as the idea; business development (even if it is built in viral-ness) is nearly as important as the product itself.

Comments?

John YS