Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Real Seed Of A Startup Is A Need


With all due respect to the genius that is Jessica Hagy and Indexed, the seed of a startup is *NOT* cheap technology, disgruntled workers, and an anemic economy.

While that portion of the Venn diagram represents the ideal soil for starting a company, the real seed of a startup is a need.

Every successful startup gives people something they need--even if they don't know that they need it yet.

I was meeting with one of my startups today (yes, I do work weekends) and we were discussing the idea (suggested by a potential investor) that the company build a Facebook app. The entrepreneurs had carefully sketched out how they would build such an app, and were taking me through how they were going to optimize the design.

I stopped them and asked, "Why do the customers need this app?"

Far too often, we confuse the soil with the seed. Facebook is soil; it provides an environment in which social applications can thrive. But "we need to have a Facebook app" is not a need; it's a tactic.

If you're worried that you're mistaking soil for seed, do one simple thing: Find a real user. Expose them to what you're doing. Then see if they keep using it when you aren't there.

You see, you can't trust what people say. People are eager to please. And it's all too easy to hear what you want to hear. But you can trust what they do. The numbers don't lie. If you're meeting a need, that fact will show up in usage and retention.

Before you rent a backhoe, make sure you have a real seed. The best soil in the world won't yield a bumper crop if you plant a pebble.

3 comments:

Jason said...

This is complete opinion and first reaction to reading the Venn diagram.

Soil = market.
Seed/Plant = ideas and execution.
Gardening = investments of cap, knowledge, etc.
Weather = luck.
Pathogens = lack of innovation, unfocused, etc.

I'm over simplifying. Still, looking at it this way it seems easier to frame a given company. From startup to Fortune 10 you can sort of describe it by the above criteria.

For the facebook example it sounds like investing energy to deploy on that platform just wasn't a good idea for them. In the above example (depending on the stage) that would either go back to the seed/plant having a small bad idea in the mix or to the plant developing a pathogen.

Chris said...

Jason,

I like your analogy. I might even compare VC to fertilizer--if you know what to do with it, it can help you grow a bumper crop, but if you don't, you end up with a useless pile of BS.

Asha - 13 Years Later said...

Chris – This may be one of the most helpful nuggets I’ve come across in a while:

If you're worried that you're mistaking soil for seed, do one simple thing: Find a real user. Expose them to what you're doing. Then see if they keep using it when you aren't there.

Such a simple concept, but so true. I’m going to add this to my “brainstorming” list for new career ideas.