The Three T’s of The Startup

Startups are an amazing process.   It all starts with an idea or “what if” scenario: a blank whiteboard and an empty room, a discussion of like minds. Specifications are written.  Code is prototyped.  Boom!

I have been on all four sides of the startup equation: creating/founding, VC technical due diligence, acquiring at software corporations, and being acquired by software corporations.    What does it take to create a chance at a successful Startup? I like to call it the Three T’s: Talent, Technology and Timing. I believe this is what creates the 1% of startups – the successful entities.  The Big Idea of your NewCo coalesces the three T’s together.   So lets break down the Three T’s:

•    Talent

One common thread that I see is The Team, The Crew, The Clan.  The Team is core to any of the startup functions.   Take a well-seasoned and technically strong team that can execute on a code base in a very efficient manner and all of a sudden a grade B idea turns into a grade A idea.  I do not care if you are making pencils.  If you have a great team, it will make the pencils into pens!  I wrote in a previous post concerning the talents of people who exist in the world of technology startups.  Most are multi-faceted over-achievers.  Let us look at a very basic core description of some of the attributes I look for in a member of a technical team:

Must have the ability to:

  • Translate business requirements into system design and implementation.
  • Breadth of knowledge in several areas and stretch beyond current models.
  • Understand a variety of constantly evolving business requirements, tools and platforms.  (I am willing to bet that idea or business model will change)
  • Speed and Agility. Can you work intelligently with speed? You will be prototyping systems that have never built before with little or no technical documentation/requirements
  • Keep Theoretical Rhetoric at the door.  It is good over a beer not somewhere that equates to running production code.
  • Do It All constantly with little or no assistance or answers.

Oh, did I mention constant ridicule from people that say The Big Idea is not possible or they already thought about it?  Most companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Yahoo! or IBM (the folks inside the firewall)  acquire companies for two basic reasons: 1) talent or 2) technology.  Ok, pretty obvious yet what is the underlying motivation?  The talent play is human resource recruiting on steroids.  I was talking to an executive at a software corporation somewhere in The Wild West and they said they really do not like acquisitions but look at it like they get an in place department ready to kick start onto something else.  Wait what happened to your lovely Big Idea?  That is modus operandi and “T” number two.

•    Technology

In many cases the technology is acquired for defensive reasons.  Why you ask?  The good folks inside the firewall usually do not want the other folks inside the firewall to have the latest and greatest creations.  Is it really all that important to them?  Not really.  It is adjunct to the core businesses of the companies inside the firewall.  Be careful here – do not fall in love with the technology you are creating.  It is very easy to do so.  The technology is just a means to an end that enables the idea.  That said, sometimes new technologies are created to create the idea.   Reduction into practice is what it is all about.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “Well we have THOUGHT about that technology.”  Ok well glad you have thought about it, thanks we are going to go off and build something to drive a business model to fruition.   Given a great team that can execute a clean concise code base (complete with specifications and provisional patents) makes a very attractive package for said corporations to pick up. They get more minds on the keyboards.  Possibly your ever changing Big Idea will be used on the corporation.  I must say making money off some code you wrote via an acquisition that is deployed via one of the folks inside the firewall is cool.  In fact so cool it feels criminal.  Especially when it is at the right TIME.

•    Timing

This is a tricky one.  A very smart professor once told me, “Timing is Everything.”  The tech world operates, as do most things in life, within the vicissitudes of cyclicality.    What comes around goes around.  It just looks and smells slightly different. In the startup world if you think it; it may have already been accomplished and the terminology quick follower may not be quick enough.  In most cases they who ship first usually win although a good Rolodex™ of contacts help as well.  Knowing when to launch or deploy or even start the Big Idea is everything.  Given a great team and some good technology when do you pull the trigger to deploy the Big Idea?  Recently, there has been much discussion of semantic intelligence and predictive analytics.  Information Retrieval and Knowledge Discovery were extremely hot 1998 to 2001.   Many of the same tools and methods for performing natural language processing, machine learning, data mining and a host of other adaptive methods were alive and well yet much of the infrastructure was not in place.  Today we have infrastructure technologies with REST, Hadoop, EC2 and the like and it makes getting down to business of creating Societal Mathematics so much more enjoyable because one does have to worry about the pipes.  Also we have so much more data in the areas of digital born goods via the World Wide Wait (ah Web – excuse me).  Is it truly different?  Not in an academic sense.  The timing is important.    A great idea or a great team to far ahead or far behind could spell disaster for a startup.  In most cases it is better to be a “front-runner” than a “quick follower”.  In a startup hours are days and days are months.  So it is very important to get out of the gates quickly.  Analysis to paralysis can be a death knell.  A grade B idea timed correctly with great execution will magically turn into a grade A exit.

Is this a concise cookbook? No.  Yet I hope you found it helpful and thought provoking.  There are no panaceas for idea2bank monetization but that doesn’t stop me from trying to find one!

Remember:  your ideas are your own until you tell someone.

The Origami of Instinct

We, as a society, are losing our instincts. I believe that instinct plays a role in successful startups. In a startup, it is imperative and essential you possess a passion for being the strongest, fastest, smartest or combination of all of the aforementioned with respect to the technology or business model you are creating. There are no gray areas concerning creating a successful agile business. You cannot pass off the blame or pass the buck in this environment. This is one reason that so many come back to the startup world. This is survival of the fittest. Yet some do not view it this way. They view a method of tearing down instead of raising everyone’s performance level.

Playing to Success; Playing to Failure

Some play to success or play to failure. Playing to succeed is the process that I prefer and honestly only know how to perform within the context of my career. Playing to success means that you involve as many people as possible in the discussions to make the pie larger for everyone. You also involve people that are BETTER than you.   I like to term this “Wolves Drinking Out of the Same Pond.” If all the wolves drink from the pond and protect the pond, it will create a more extensive and healthier pond for all the wolves (companies) involved. Playing to success is connecting the Elite of the Elite together. If you look at the world of successful startups, the people involved are usually multi-faceted over-achievers. They are great business types AND world-class rowers; they are world-class programmers AND accomplished musicians. Then most add extracurricular endeavors like marathon running, martial arts, or extreme sports. Most read self-help books or some non-fiction daily; if it is fiction, it usually is something arcane, or they are re-reading, Milton’s Paradise Lost. These people usually seek out others of like kind to aid them. Also, most do not need self-help books, yet they strive to make themselves better at all costs.

So let’s return to the importance of losing our instincts. Our ability to perceive fight or flight situations are becoming less and less. We do not, daily, need to detect these situations or do we? We no longer need to smell the air to detect an adversary. What does that do to our pre-cognitive processes when engaging with an adversary (read competitive company). Is tearing down the new competitive startup advantageous?

On the contrary, startups should ban together. The startups are the wolves. We have the advantage, we have the speed, might and willpower, and passion for creating faster and more focused entities. Exits are Acquisitions. So why wouldn’t we want to increase our ability to detect Fight or Flight? Do you think that Venture Capitalists can’t detect when you are not entirely committed or are unsure of the answer you were just asked? You bet they can detect any fright mechanism. Use at your disposal what led you to arrive at this juncture. To increase and practice your senses (all 6 of them), and I bet it will make you a better entrepreneur. If it doesn’t, at least you will have improved yourself. For those that already know, you already have, and I will see you at the pond.

The Can’t Do Voice

Most will not find this pertinent to making money or startups. However, it is very pertinent. Undo the “can’t do” thoughts in your head. Can’t do’s have no place in a startup.

This is an excerpt from a larger work entitled “A Day at the Zoo” by the now-deceased Dr. C.S. Hyatt

Sa-Shu-Ah – by Crag Jensen

Close your eyes, relax and float downstream.

Hello – I am the man on the Radio
I am the man on your television News Channel
I am the man behind the pulpit and the man who works for the Government
I am the man whom you must believe in because I am the man whom you fear the most.
I am – alas- the man who has been planted inside your head since you were too young to even talk – to walk- to reason or question.
Yes, it’s true – I am the man who never tires of telling you what to do – how to vote – what to eat – what to buy – what to believe in – where to go – when to go – and how to go.
I am the man who sits inside your head and dictates – dictates – dictates. I am, therefore – and in essence – your personal – government approved & church sanctioned – dictator.
I am not you, but I will be all that is left of you at the end of the day because you have long since relinquished the responsibility of being who you really are because it is much, much, much easier to listen to and obey me – rather than to break free of me and actually accomplish something worthwhile in your – so-called life.

No Don’t waste it
Don’t be a slave to your programming – anymore
When you can open – yes you can open the door.
And Set yourself free.

And though I wish you well – only time and work will tell
Just how you will fare – true success is all too rare.

But whatever you do wherever you go – don’t forget
To keep on undoing yourself (undoing yourself, undoing yourself…)