Why are we standing still?

I wrote an email a week ago to several close friends titled, “[w]hy are we standing still?” I opened with “[y]ou are all good friends and you are all smart people. We need to work together more … I deal with startups all the time and I rarely find a team of smart articulated people, so why can’t we just do this?”

What was the motivation? I had just read online that startup A has 100 million users and startup B had just raised $42 million. I came to the realization that I am wasting my time trying to develop significantly better tools in my chosen profession because I would never achieve these types of numbers. Those tools would never need the performance and scalability expertise for which I am widely recognized. I am, as CNN Money recently wrote in “Tech companies desperate for ‘rockstarninja’ engineers,” a “Rockstar Ninja” in the tech field.

I work with startups daily and most abuse the technology being used. Technology is not even the problem. In fact, for me and my group of close tech friends, it is almost trivial at times. What is complex, however, is the people and the process combined with the one thing that nobody can escape, time. Ideas are also not the problem, I have plenty of those. I even have several ideas at various stages of actual implementation including VisMarks – Visual Bookmarking and Mooify – The social barometer for moods, thoughts and emotions. These are each at different levels of initial completion. Are they world changers? Probably not, however, they are iterations of the process of what Eric Ries calls The Lean Startup Machine. (Side Note: The next Lean startup machine weekend event is in New York starting on April 1st.)

So back to my band of smart friends, why are we still standing still? Not being content with just talking, I took action and have organized a 24 hour weekend collaboration at my own home for next weekend, code named JFDI/Bliss (there is an interesting story behind the name). I set aside not one project to tackle but three. And by tackle, I mean create, deploy, iterate and even complete a MVP, keeping in mind the technology is not the hard part. The first project is from my good friend Graham, the founder of Ultra Light Startups. We have had many conversations about our respective ideas in the past years, discussing different potential projects. This project is actually referenced by our second project from another friend, John (uBlanket his current startup), that we discussed just last week over dinner. The third, my own VisMarks project, needs only one technical hurdle solved and some user interface design to complete initial functionality. We will also be reviewing and integrating technology from the Lean Startup Bundle for SXSW for the The Lean Startup Challenge.

I can easily provide the food and drink, internet, power, a large finished basement area, a back yard if the weather is good, bedding (it’s a 24 hr event) and even some of my world class beer collection so there are no physical hurdles or expenses to start working together. That is our lean ultralight startup. We have two goals: first, to be able to collaborate in person because thought can be multiplied exponentially when discussing any idea or problem and second, to have fun.

So it all sounds easy, right? Wrong. What’s missing? Just as the capability of being able to code is only a small portion of being a qualified and competent developer, creating the technology is only one portion of a successful startup. Managing Director of TechStars New York, David Tisch (@davetisch) stated at a recent Ultra Light Startups panel discussion some key points that highlighted the resource components of a successful startup. The ideals of this NYC accelerator are mentorship, network and exposure. We need all three. When asked what is the ideal skill set for a team, his response was three people: one business, one technical and one product person. We need those as well. However, when David was asked what is most important when choosing startups for their program, the answer was the people on the team. Important considerations are how you work together, what have you done together as a team, where do you most need help. For the last question that answer is easy. We need help and mentoring in areas including marketing, business development, legal, accounting, PR, promotion, funding, sales, leadership, management, vision, etc. All of these cost money we do not presently have and are necessary to get the traction of millions of users.

The goal should not just to become rich but be happy, have a lot of fun and make a difference in the world in small way we know best, technology.

There are many innovators in our industry, however, the following are a few I follow very closely. These include Dave McClure (@davemcclure), who I followed for a long time before we first met at the inaugural Rethink Hawaii event in 2009. Dave’s AARRR startup metrics for pirates approach is something I share with many clients that do not see the critical need of tracking what their leads do from initial acquisition. This is necessary to help answer questions including what is the your total cost of acquisition of a paying client and what is the best return on investment.

Eric Ries (@ericries) is a person I have followed now for over a year reading, many great posts including What is a startup?, Four (not five) myths about the Lean Startup and Revisiting the Software Design Manifesto to name a few.

Finally, the Kauffman Foundation (@kauffmanfdn), provides good resources and opportunities including the recent 2011 State of Entrepreneurship Address in Washington DC. Entrepreneurs create new businesses and new businesses are the greatest source of jobs and this creates a better economy. Entrepreneurship is also not just about creating something new, it is also about finding better ways of doing things we presently do. Their work with immigration reform, and involvement with the Startup Visa and Statup America are issues close to my own heart.

I have easily been distracted from my day job and upcoming speaking presentations researching work for our initial kickoff. Excitement is a great motivator to achieving something great.

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2 Responses to “Why are we standing still?”

  1. rexsolomon says:

    Hello Ronald,

    Ask and you shall receive.

    Happiness seems to be your focus, and so you shall have it.

    The point of Startup America supposedly is job creation via identified ‘high growth startups’, but it seems to have been hijacked by bankers to mean ‘loan generation’ rather than direct investment or government grants.

    That sir, is the reason why you are standing still. And, as I have pointed out, your ‘pursuit of happiness’.

    David Brooks in his New York Times Op-Ed piece “The Experience Economy” correctly points out that “ many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity”.

    The amount of jobs that America needs to be generated cannot come from ‘happiness gains’ as Mr. Brooks points out. Only wealth creation via innovation can give birth to thousands of jobs.

    We are both tech geeks and we should be glad. We have skills that 99% of the millions of unemployed Americans do not have. Will creating the next Facebook or Google result in thousands of stable, well-paying jobs for non-technical, common folk? I doubt it.

    BTW, I am a CTO of a high growth startup, and I do think that Startup America is not doing what it originally set out to do, thus I believe that it will fail miserably. But there is opportunity in that too.

    Thanks!

    Rex Solomon

  2. ronald says:

    Rex,

    Thanks for your input. I concur. I feel Startup America is quite a failure at present. However like many endeavors (especially in the startup world), hopefully at some time they will realize this is a failure, and start a fresh. Out of the ashes may rise a new phoenix.