|Poor Caterina Fake unleashed quite a firestorm by proclaiming, somewhat flippantly, that this was not a good time to start a business — though she later qualified it to starting “consumer-facing Web 2.0 companies in [Northern California]”. One of the protesters was David Heinemeier of 37Signals, who said it’s always a good time to start a business if you do it right.
They are, of course, both correct. If your plan is to get rich quick with a copycat idea by attracting millions in venture capital, it’s never a good time, especially now that VCs are wearying of the unrealized promise of many online businesses to attract real customer dollars. Caterina, presumably, made a reasonably small fortune developing and selling Flickr to Yahoo. But she started with a need, not a clever idea, and she nurtured it for years until it was clear to all that Flickr met that need. Even then, it was a strategic acquisition for Yahoo, rather than a cash cow, just as Skype was a strategic acquisition for eBay. And while both Flickr and Skype were original, met a need in a unique way, and achieved enormous popularity virally before they were acquired, it is far from certain that either had a sure-fire business model i.e. was destined to be sustainably profitable as an operating business. Much of what made both products so popular, after all, was that they were (and are) free.
I’ve spoken before about how and when to start a new business, and the graphic at right resummarizes my perspective on what you need to have, what you need to know, and how to go about it. But I thought I would offer a succinct answer to the question that a lot of people ask, which is When is the Right Time to Start a Business?
My answer is when you can answer ‘yes’ to all of the following questions:
That’s it. No mention of venture capital (the new name for ‘lenders of last resort’). No mention of marketing plans or detailed business plans with ten-year financial projections. No mention of luck. No mention even of deep networks (though they certainly help).
The most successful (on their own terms) businesses I know, some of which have been going for generations, all have these three qualities going for them, and I know of nothing else they all have in common (except perhaps that most of their principals have either failed or come close to failing in a past enterprise). Walk into companies like this, talk to a few people at random, and you can tell, almost immediately, if they have these qualities. You can smell it.
Walk into most companies and they reek of self-doubt, or of tedium, of internal friction and loathing, of risk-aversion and dread, of inflexibility, or false arrogance, or imaginative poverty.
I’m not saying that you can’t succeed, for awhile at least, with some cute copycat web or software idea that will attract brief fame, long enough to catch the eye of a big company who sees strategic advantage in buying it rather than copying it, and paying you enough to retire comfortably. But, as David says, if this is your approach you might as well pick up a Powerball ticket while you’re at it.
The three qualities above are exceptional, and not at all easy to come by. I know people who have been striving for them for a lifetime, quietly but unhappily working at some boring job at which they are overqualified and under-appreciated, but unable to find either the need or the teamthat will let them do what they really want to do.
For those that can, it’s always a good time to start a business.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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