Here at Techstars one of the most emphasized concepts is to always work from an implied position of trust. This makes a lot of sense in an organization that thrives on fostering an open dialogue between startups and mentors. Brad Feld had a great post on this a while ago called Why Most VC’s Don’t Sign NDA’s (He also referenced it in a more Recent Post).
Although Brad’s thoughts and the Techstars approach may seem to be very startup centric, I think they touch on a broad trend that has been catalyzed by the adoption of social media. One critical aspect of the social media revolution is that for the first time, mass amounts of people are sharing their intimate, accurate personal data online. I think this is an overlooked consequence of the shift from a model of the web which emphasized anonymity. Just compare the chatrooms and forums of the early internet with the pattern of interaction that occurs on Quora or even Twitter.
At the core of this change is the fact that people are now much less protective of their personal information and data. This transition is often criticized by privacy advocates, but I see much more to be gained from the trend. Of course, people still need to be aware of what they shouldn’t be sharing online (financial data, home address, etc), but those concerns should not prevent people from crafting accurate, intimate representations of themselves in the social space.
So how does this all circle around to the idea of working with trust? As i’m sitting here writing this, a friend just shared a one line business concept on Twitter, seeking feedback from his followers. A few minutes ago, I shared a link to a story about Uber with a friend who is attempting to build a company to provide late night rides to college students in Raleigh, NC. Both of these posts can be viewed and shared by thousands of people… and we know that. We also know that the internet is most powerful when ideas are shared freely and openly between people all over the world. If someone in South America happens to be passionate about an idea I am considering, I want them to have access to that idea. Maybe it will lead to a dialogue, or maybe they will even go on to start their own version of what I am considering- either way, the world ends up “richer” in the broad sense of the word.
In other news, dog bites man.
Seriously, why is it even considered discussion worthy when wall street analysts blow the sales projections for another piece of new tech? Other than the Apple devotees who love to play the “David V. Goliath” mentality any chance they get, who actually even cares about those projections?
We should know by now that the adoption rate of new tech products follow the Black Swan model… utterly unpredictable, belonging to the wild world of Extremistan. Analysts publish official sounding numbers because they are paid to do so, not because these numbers are any more reliable than the opinion of the average taxi driver.
In the fast moving tech world, being dependent on statistical predictions to make decisions is a critical mistake. The best hope is to identify broad macro-trends and build your plan of action around these basic concepts. A great example is the movement towards a more touch based interface experience. Although it is impossible to predict who the long term winners of this new form factor will be, it is possible to build a business around the larger shift that is occurring. A great example of this is Onswipe, the platform for “Insanely Easy Tablet Publishing”. Recognizing the massive growth of tablet devices, but not wanting to invest themselves completely in a single platform, Jason and Andres decided to build an entirely platform agnostic model that makes web content look incredible on any touch enabled device.
The takeaway? When building a business, don’t look to experts or statistical predictions for validation. Take the time to understand the broad trends occurring in the world around you, and move quickly to exploit them.
In true startup blog fashion (if TechCrunch can do it, so can I), I’ll start by talking about an awesome blog post by Chris Dixon this week. The TL;DR version of his title: The Internet Is Going To Screw With Everything.
He does a great job of explaining a paradigm that we all know to be true, but often gets forgotten in our focus on the current or next “big thing”: The power of the internet is an unstoppable and all-encompassing force for change. This means that not only will it continue to disrupt industries like news, music, and video, but that it will also disrupt as yet unconquered industries as well (Chris mentions real estate, politics, among others).
There is a constantly growing repository of “disruption energy” that is dispersed throughout the startup world. We see this in the incestuous nature of internet thought- someone creates a compelling model, others copy it and put their own spin on it, and we end up with lots of “my company is <web company A> meets <web company B>.” This is actually a healthy part of advancing the web ecosystem (in addition to making for really fun games of startup MadLibs). Startups today are able to draw various aspects of their business from previous innovation… which gives them more freedom to be incredibly disruptive in the core aspects of their business. A startup looking to change the way coaches consume, edit, and distribute game film (shoutout to TeamHomeField here) can build much of their business on existing data. They can look at how people naturally interact with video on Youtube, can borrow their revenue model from the innovation thats already taken place in SaaS… and focus on building one hell of a product to disrupt the sports film vertical.
As a (former?) student of economics, I see a lot of parallels between this process, and the process of international macroeconomic growth. We have seen over the last several hundred years that it is much easier for so called “emerging” economies to grow while they are still playing catchup to more developed nations. The United States at the turn of the 20th century, Japan in the 70’s and China today are all perfect examples of the power of being second. Much as emerging economies build on the successes of the developed world and then inject their own cultural perspective, web companies are free to borrow and learn from their predecessors- and then add their own disruptive mojo.
For whatever reason, the expectation when starting a blog is that you write some sort of post explaining your reasons for starting a blog in the first place. This always seemed a pretty inane to me, so i’ll keep this as short and sweet as possible:
I plan on using this platform to chronicle my experiences as a Techstars NYC associate over the next few months. Beyond that, hopefully i’ll continue having something semi-interesting to write about. Some of my posts will hopefully be a little bit interesting in the broad context of the startup world. Some will really only be interesting to close friends and family, and others may be completely pointless for anything other than as a dumping ground for my own ramblings. Enjoy.