“He is the Silicon Valley archetype: an entrepreneur with a gift not only for seeing the future but convincing others to meet him there.”
That’s a quote from Tubes (page 72, for those of you scoring at home). In the whole book, this was one of the quotes that stood out to me, and I wanted to capture it here before the book got closed up and placed on the shelf.
To me, that quote really hits the nail on the head regarding a prerequisite for successful entrepreneurship: it isn’t good enough to have an idea of what the future looks like (and to build solutions for the problems of the future); you must also be able to get people on-board so that there’s a ripe market for whatever you create. There are many brilliant people in the world, many of whom have accurate ideas about what solutions the future needs, but a failure to convince others of the opportunity (be they investors, solution partners, suppliers, customers, or any other stakeholder) will likely doom the idea.
For a few days now, I’ve been pondering this quote, at least partly to examine why it struck such a chord. I think that by working in (and generally following) technology, I’ve seen many notable solutions, and I’ve always been interested in the reasons why some ideas succeed and others fail. Personally, I believe luck is an underrated factor, but it is not alone, and the quote above touches on another. We often hear about someone having a great idea “before its time”, but some of the most successful entrepreneurs have that magical ability to create the right time by convincing others to change their schedules.
Years ago I worked in the quality assurance department of a start-up that had some interesting technology around targeted advertising (don’t get all weirded out, it was nothing sinister or invasive; the technology basically meant that people in different households watching the same television program would see different ads…if that weirds you out then you don’t use any “free” online service). You’re going to see ads anyway, but this solution meant that the ads you saw would actually be more relevant (and this was before TiVo and DVRs). The company had substantial funding, but to succeed they needed to completely change how advertising campaigns are executed, get buy-in from the set-top manufacturers, and get all the major service providers and networks on board. These weren’t insurmountable obstacles, but they were towering, and perhaps the solution was just a tad too disruptive. Or perhaps we all just failed to convince others to join us in this wonderful future of ads that weren’t painfully irrelevant?
Ordinarily I’d do a bit of research around this idea of the importance of “convincing others to join you in the future”, but it seems self-evident to me. This aspect of entrepreneurial leadership is critical: through evangelization, marketing, thought leadership, or whatever, you have to convince people to join you in the future; otherwise, you’re going to have lots of time alone to wonder why things haven’t worked out.