In a Strong Wind Even Turkeys Can Fly

Posted on Dec 13, 2010 | 50 comments


One of the wisest people I worked with in my career was Ameet Shah.  Ameet always had the quietly reflective view of “why things were” that always came from a unique angle that I hadn’t considered.

He taught me, amongst other things, the benefit of “top down thinking” that changed the way I analyzed markets, companies and people.  He taught me to ask questions in meetings rather than only talking and the benefits of not always trying to be the smartest guy in the room.  He always was.  But his favorite line was, “can you please slow down and explain this again?  I’m only a 386 processor.”

We worked together at Andersen Consulting between 1996-99 when the markets were booming.  I had joined AC in 1991 as a programmer when it was a relatively small practice focused on building corporate IT systems for Fortune 500 companies and there were a handful of companies that offered the same service.  By 1999 we had grown into the largest independent consulting firm in the world.

By 1999 it seemed like everybody was growing, though.  Increasingly it became difficult to tell any system integration company apart and there was a whole new breed of competitors in the market helping companies build Internet businesses.  There were the existing large consulting firms like IBM, CSC, Cap Gemini, PwC and Deloitte Consulting as well as the upstarts like Scient, Viant, Razorfish, Diamond Consulting and a host of others.

The market seemed crowded and our leadership position that had been built over many years seemed to not matter any more.  Everybody was doing marketing blitzes, over-paying to steal the best staff, pimping out urban offices to the nines, and hiring in a frenzy.  Everybody was raising a shit-ton of money.

Ameet said to me, “Ah, I’ve seen this many times before.  See, Mark, in a booming market you can never tell the winners from the losers.  In a booming market buyers aren’t very discerning and companies that have weaknesses can mask them.  I’ve seen this a few times before.  Andersen Consulting always gains market share in down markets.  That’s where the companies who are just good at marketing tend to crumble.  In a booming market you can’t tell the difference.”

That had never occurred to me.

In other words, in a strong market even turkeys can fly.

It’s hard to see this clearly when there are strong winds and when you can easily get swept up.  Ameet was right.  I left Andersen Consulting in 1999 at the height of the market.  Andersen had lost its long-time CEO, George Shaheen, was hemorrhaging staff and wasn’t exactly known as being an Internet pioneer.  Ameet said, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine, just wait for the next downturn.”

Within a year, by late 2000 / early 2001 consulting firms were firing people en masse.  Most of the Internet startup consulting firms went bankrupt.  Andersen Consulting won an international artibitration case against its sister company Arthur Andersen and rebranded themselves as Accenture.  Arthur Andersen was embroiled in the Enron scandal and forced out of business.

On July 27th, 2001 Accenture IPO’s and many of the partners grew fabulously wealthy.  During the down market they were able to double down on recruiting, sales, outsourcing, new market entries and marketing (yes, with Tiger ads).   Accenture opened massive operations in India & China and continued its industry dominance.  Since that date the S&P 500 is up 2.45% while Accenture stock is up 206% with revenue of $23 billion and a market cap of $32 billion.

The things that always differentiated Accenture?  Investment in training, adherence to process, global knowledge sharing systems, quality control / partner reviews and campus recruitment programs that attracted the right talent.

And coming to the end of 2010 I feel a sense of reminiscence of some of the trends from a decade ago.  There seem to be a lot of market entrants in every category where it becomes hard to differentiate them all from each other.  It’s clear that the exuberance has returned to hiring, paying large compensation, poaching staff with big payouts and large fund raising events at lofty prices.

The size of magazines seems to be expanding, marketing seems to be up and the number of tech announcements per day is dizzying.  Who can keep up with all this stuff?

In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

When the tech market is done over heating, or over hyping or whatever is going on right now, there will be a select few companies who have built differentiated products, hired talented teams, raised sufficient capital, established good operational processes and have strategic insight into where their market is heading.  These companies will grab massive market share as others fall behind.  Many “me, too” companies will perish.

It’s why as an investor I look for talented teams with long-term vision, a unique point-of-view, differentiated IP and a desire to build something enduring.  Often when I meet them the idea seems at odds with what others are doing and as long as it’s the right team with a well-thought-through plan I kinda like that.  Only when their market becomes “hot” do they seem prescient and by then they have a significant lead.

Zynga wasn’t founded because they read about similar successes on TechCrunch, they built early and pioneered.  FourSquare isn’t a “me, too” location-based recommendation service – it led in the category with check-ins and badges.  It’s not surprising both have pulled ahead in their respective markets.  I was reminded of all this this when I read a blog post by one of my favorite thinkers on the VC market, Bryce Roberts, who talked about “unfundable companies.”

“Reality is, at the seed stage, most rocketships look more like the cardboard variety you’d make as a kid than something NASA developed. Pour rocketfuel into your cardboard creation and you’re more likely to see it go up in flames than into orbit…

… I fear that, in this market, people are pouring rocketfuel into cardboard cutouts and no one is telling them.  I strongly believe living through “unfundable” periods is important for long term success.

Consider it a badge of honor that most people think your idea won’t work. I’m certain that if you look at every single one of the entrepreneurs who’ve gone on to build big, enduring businesses they were unfundable once too.”

I love that.  Bryce is a bit like the entrepreneurs I search for.  He’s got a strong point-of-view on how OATV wants to invest, is willing to be proudly different from the rest, and is sticking to his plan despite the bull market that has been especially strong in his part of the market: early-stage investing.  I suspect when the wind calms down Bryce will be well positioned.

My advice to entrepreneurs is to have a sense of purpose and stick to that regardless of what you’re reading in TechCrunch or Business Insider.  Avoid the latest fads, trends or PR announcements.  Don’t be psyched out by your competitors big financing round, latest product release or business development deal.  If you know what your customers need, deliver against that promise and provide a product or services that has economic value you’ll do well.  Double-down on great people, process & IP.

And only one day when the wind calms down can we invoke my favorite Warren Buffet quote of all time:

“It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

** Appendix for the overly anal:

Yes, I know that some turkeys CAN actually fly.  The wild turkey variety.  But even they can’t fly very high or very fast.  A turkey is only a metaphor.  There, I saved you some typing in the comments section.

  • http://twitter.com/andreaswilkens Andreas Wilkens

    Another great post. Thanks you. I realized that with my company. I asked myself why we made the really good money in a bad economy but why are we staying just average in boom times. Do you think the answer for leveraging the boom times is market like hell and try to compete with everybody or better continue as usual and wait for next downturn ?

  • Josh Webb

    As a VC, a lot of your success is predicated on identifying the naked folks while the tide is high and market/industry knowledge is sparse. In the article, you discuss the qualities that allow companies to stand out:
    -built differentiated products
    -hired talented teams
    -raised sufficient capital
    -established good operational processes
    -have strategic insight into where their market is heading

    Many of these concepts are “post” money observations.

    What specific “pre” money, high-tide, low-information qualities make it hard for you to say no as an investor?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    You have to continue in boom times. The important thing is not to get swept up in the hype but to stay true to your mission.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Good observation. I laid them all out here: http://www.bothsidesofthetable…/

    And as I've said, I prefer to invest in observations over time rather than a single data point as outlined here: http://www.bothsidesofthetable…/

  • Josh Webb

    Re: the Entrepreneur DNA…
    Those qualities are facets of a person that can take a long time to suss out and confirm. There are probably folks that fall in to some of these categories that don't even know themselves well enough to say so. I guess my question was more about the specific observations that you have of an individual or team that lead you to conclude the presence of these criteria (in the relatively short timespan you have to do so). This is a long enough request that it will be hard to put in a comment, but maybe there is a post in the future. I would be interested in learning how you identify things like integrity, perspiration, and ability to pivot _before_ you put too much skin in the game.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Honestly, Josh, this is what I look for. I often know people for 1-2 years before I invest. Sometimes longer. It's easy to see: tenacity, street smarts, perspiration, ability to pivot, leadership with some observations. It's try that you can only have a gut feel for integrity, but I trust my judgment here.

  • Petegrif

    I like the turn of phrase – even turkeys can fly.
    Here's another couple for you.

    In the sixties Alfred E. Neuman could have been CEO of IBM and he would have looked like a genius. And Albert Einstein could have been running British shipbuilders and would have looked like a moron.

    A rising tide raises all ships.

    Bein in the right place at the right time matters, because a startup needs its mistakes to be forgiven. Established companies can afford some such mistakes, the price they pay is losing market share. A small company just dies.

  • http://www.twitter.com/biggiesu Mike Su

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I think I mentioned to you before that I was at I-cube which merged with Razorfish for a cool billion. Oh dear lord we were annoying. We were recontextualizing click n mortar businesses by cross integrating reimagined paradigms. When I left to go to another startup a colleague back at Razorfish called me a sucker for leaving. Er, ok. Razorfish eventually sold to SBI for $8 million (with an “m”). So yeah, even turkeys can fly, for a while ;) as a side note, Razorfish has managed to rise from the ashes, moreso than any of the other high flying turkeys (remember zefer?).

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    sure, much less margin of error for startups, for sure.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    ha. yes, I do remember zefer. for a minute. and there was march first, cks, interweb and a host of others.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Enjoyed the post but it would have been perfectly timed on Thanksgiving.

    I see all around me a society in transition, from corporate jobs out of college to something different. There's no crystal ball that can clearly describe our economic future. The best we can do is follow sound advice.

    “if you know what your customers need, deliver against that promise and provide a product or services that has economic value you’ll do well.”

    If your company can do the above, it's a real company.

    Finally, if your customer is willing to pay handsomely for flying turkeys or you to swim naked it's in your best interest to do so, within reason.

  • http://weebehave.com Travis Ryan

    Wow another great, insightful post. You put alot of thought into your blog posts and it shows. These kinds of things can be easy to get swept up in, and it indeed is important to always keep things honest. Definitely gives pause…

  • http://twitter.com/SeanSlater Sean Slater

    I really like that metaphore Mark, “In a Strong Wind Even Turkeys Can Fly”

    Outside of the main game at a smaller level there are 'web developers' pimping out services to SME clients that really have no place to be doing so – but they are getting clients, and bad websites are being built.

    The true test will be when it all dies down again and the work dries up.

  • http://twitter.com/to2 Trevor Owens

    Always appreciate your long-term focus Mark. I think the worst thing an entrepreneur is give in to trends/fads happening right now and sacrifice their long-term vision.

  • http://www.tandemlaunchtech.com Helge Seetzen

    Great post. It seems to me that there are two types of investment strategies out there:
    - invest in long-term vision and cash out on being the survivor when all the short-term turkeys have crashed
    - invest in short-term hype and cash out before the wind stops blowing

    Both approaches can make money in principle but their crowd dynamics are different. Investing in vision basicaly requires you to be a good judge of people (and their visions) which intrinsically doesn't scale with crowd. In other words, your probability of success as an investor in this category is driven by your own skill set and almost not at all by the presence of other investors with the same skill set.

    The situation is different for the second type of investors. If you are good at identifying short-term market hype then your probably of success goes up dramatically with the presence of other market hype investors. The investor crowd effectively creates the condition of success for their investment. Of course all of this only works for the small minority who judges the tipping point just right and exits before the (self-created) wind stops blowing.

    I think this difference in crowd dynamics is the origin of all investment bubbles. It's the reason why industries with market hype investors fluctuate like crazy while others have been stable for decades. And you know that you are in a market hype investment world when nomenclature like “failing fast”, “pivoting”, “lean start-up”, etc. appears – at the core those are all concepts that encourage/excuse abandoning visions.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    On the last sentence I respectfully disagree. It's a mistake I made at my first company. I knew how to sell high-priced products to customers at a rate that was above what I should have charged them. I didn't know this at the time. But I should have sold at a more reasonable price, grabbed market share and built a high-growth company. The “handsom” prices that were paid became my Achilles heel.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    And this will happen, for sure.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed, Trevor. And it is more common than people realize. It's really hard not to get swept up in what everybody else is telling you to do because they're all reading from the same play book.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    My only problem with the second approach is that it relies on market timing or the “great sucker” theory. I don't think that's a strong long-term investment approach. But that's just me.

  • http://twitter.com/L1AD LIAD

    feel sorry that trolls necessitate you adding a caveat to the wonderful turkey analogy.

  • http://www.MoxieTherapy.com Valery

    Whether it be a company or a person, a “Me Too” isn't sustainable in good health over the long term. Extraordinary people, extraordinary companies (run by extraordinary people) are those that have the Moxie – the balls, chutzpah, cajones, confidence, courage and fortitude to relentless pursue their unique expression – no matter what – funded or unfunded. We've survived a seemingly impossible existence as human beings because we have the ability to envision and create what has never been seen before. Different from the rest.

  • Matt Cameron

    I cautionary hiring note also – It requires some strong background checking to figure out if the hot-shot sales guy is good or just a FAX watcher at a smoking hot company.

  • http://www.tandemlaunchtech.com Helge Seetzen

    I completely agree, it's not how I like to work either. That said, it does seem to work very well for a few investors. Somebody is always at the top of the Ponzi scheme :)

    Of course, I am victim of my own past and I am sure that some of my antipathy for the market hype approach comes from my own history (I founded my first venture in 2002 when very few post-bubble investors were impressed by an undergrad with a big non-Web tech vision – it worked out nicely but early fund raising was definitely not a pleasant experience).

  • Jacob Frommer

    Your approach to business and investment is aptly reflected in the comfort you display in using other people's quotes. As you (and my father used to) say, smart people surround themselves with smarter people.
    As I launch my website, http://thumbtackd.com/, the rocket analogy is perfection. We did not make it into TechStars NYC for Winter 2011. At first we were bummed. Then we realized, we barely even have the site constructed. We are currently unfundable, and after reading this article, I am very happy about that. It applies pressure. Much needed pressure, especially for a wide-eyed 23 year old.

  • http://twitter.com/Net Net Jacobsson

    Great post Mark! And touche on the pre-emptive strike “appendix for the overly anal” – love that line btw and will recommend to everybody I know in the pitching business.

  • http://twitter.com/jkatzur Jonathan Katzur

    Really enjoyed this post- I like this as a somewhat happier perspective on market up and downturns. It's a nice reminder not to get too caught up in the frenzy without spreading gloom and doom. Also good to know that at some point only the truly great companies will succeed

  • sigmaalgebra

    NICE picture of a wild turkey! There's a flock in my neighborhood: If I neglect cutting the grass, easy to do, then there are more seeds and insects in my back yard and wild turkeys, but I've never seen one as spectacular as in your picture!

    Mark, you are working hard, burning plenty of glucose between your ears, and coming up with some 'plausible' ideas with some 'face validity', but I fear you are still being too superficial, too often trying to understand what is best explained just by hype, fads, trends, as you used these three words, or luck, and, in particular, are missing out on some much better answers for the questions you are asking.

    On “fads”, etc., Leslie Wexner was good with them, but we can draw from the movie 'Big Sky Country' with “Never can tell what a woman's going to do next”.

    As an entrepreneur, I want “much better answers” because all my eggs are in just my one basket and not nearly as diversified as a venture partner who writes maybe two dozen checks.

    Here I will 'reflect' what you are doing: In this blog you are mostly trying to make progress understanding new 'information technology' business and are not just asking for 'foil decks', and I'm willing to contribute to the progress and am not just asking for your check. Besides, we very much do not think alike so that I'd be terrified to have you on my Board and have to explain what we were doing next, and I'm in NY, a long way from LA.

    For your

    “If you know what your customers need, deliver against that promise and provide a product or services that has economic value you’ll do well. Double-down on great people, process & IP.”

    this looks to me like the most solid view you presented.

    Related ideas, or 'cliches', include: Highly motivated customers, with a strong reason to buy. A product that is a 'must have' and not just a 'nice to have'. Many customers, not just a few — millions, tens of millions, hopefully hundreds of millions of customers. A product so simple to use even a child could use it, even a startup 'development' executive, even a COB, and, yes, even a venture partner :-)! For the acid test, maybe even a Xerox PARC 'cognitive psychologist'. A product or service that can be provided, hopefully with a lot of automation, especially based on software, computers, and the Internet, for much less than it can be sold for. A short, easy 'selling cycle'. A defensible position from (A) intellectual property hidden deep in server software, protected by trade secrets and not patents, from an offering not easy to duplicate or equal and (B) “engaged users” (F. Wilson). Viral marketing effects. User lock-in. Network effects. Cliches but good.

    Flying turkeys and nude swimmers illustrate a very important point: We just CANNOT let ourselves “judge” just from 'flight' or what we see superficially, i.e., above the water.

    Instead we just MUST get at some underlying, 'internal', solid, meaningful, 'causal', 'logical reductionist' fundamentals. Rocks, turkeys, and peregrine falcons all can fly, but peregrines are nearly beyond belief and for a long list of really good reasons. If look closely, then turkeys and peregrine falcons look much different, no matter how strong the winds. Both fly? Yes. The same? NO! If only look for three seconds from a hundred yards away, then maybe can't tell the difference.

    Or, Josh Webb was correct: Entrepreneurs and their venture partners need to judge early on.

    How to do that?

    Here's a broad approach that is ubiquitous but foolish: Look at broad averages. E.g., maybe from a height of low orbit some limited partners (LPs) have taken some averages about 'social media', or just saw the movie, and now want to see investments in that 'sector'. That's a foolish approach, even for projects in social media.

    The simple, bottom line, bold, blunt, rock solid fact is that to “judge early on”, such averages mean next to nothing. There are fast ways to see this:

    First, we need to exercise some good, human 'intelligence'. Well, the artificial intelligence (AI) community, working with 'intelligence' much less powerful than good human intelligence, long ago worked hard with simple averages and finally decided that they just don't work very well. The conclusion was that at least had to use 'deep knowledge'. Here for once the AI guys were correct.

    Second, as in a recent talk by Naval Ravikant, “it's all exceptions” where by “it” he meant successes. Well, simple averages won't identify exceptions.

    I can hear: But, but, but, averages have some terrific best possible properties! Yes, they do: The conclusion is, if have only meager data, then an average really can be the best way to proceed. And, in the Sharpe CAPM, and the earlier, related Markowitz model, it may be that all we have are some averages and some covariances. Then, yes, with some more assumptions, the Markowitz and CAPM calculations really are the best possible. All of this hinges crucially on the assumption that we have no more data! But the 'rub' here is that having and using much more data is much of what successful entrepreneurs and their venture partners have to exploit. So, for them, f'get about simple averages.

    A good story is the Wright brothers: From simple averages, they had no chance. But if looked at the wind tunnel, the world's first good one, in the back of their bicycle shop, their calculations, etc., then their chances were quite good. So, evaluate their chances using 'deep knowledge', etc. and f'get about the averages.

    Finally, there are many ways to make money, including in information technology. But of all of these, there is one, narrow, neglected one much more powerful than all the rest: Borrow from the history of the past 70 years of what the US DoD has done to use 'secret sauce' to get a 'defensible', 'unfair', hopefully overwhelmingly strong advantage that yields much better results than any competition. For “how to judge”, the decision techniques and criteria of the problem sponsors in the US DoD are much different than those in information technology venture capital. Similarly for nearly any project in high end engineering. E.g., how does Boeing know to invest so much in composites? Also possible to use such techniques, criteria, and defensible, 'unfair advantage' 'secret sauce' in parts of 'social media'? Likely. These techniques and criteria are what it appears you and essentially all of information technology venture capital are neglecting.

    So far rare in information technology? Very much so. Rare or untested via the last 70 years of DoD? Nope! One of the most proven and best approaches to the future in all of civilization. How better to spell 'opportunity'?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, well I've learned to anticipate the comments in advance so I thought I'd cut it off at the knees

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    People who hire too quickly always pay the price in quality in the long-run

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hopefully set backs will make you stronger

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Oy vey.

  • sigmaalgebra

    Uh, just what parts of what I wrote are unclear and too difficult to undersand?

  • Kylepearson

    I'm sure it was fine. Its just really long for a “comment”.

  • sigmaalgebra

    My comment is different, and I wanted it to be easy to understand. For me to believe some different ideas, I want at least that much detail. In particular, I wouldn't want wind speed to confuse me about turkeys.

  • joeagliozzo

    Just curious – when you say

    “I founded my first venture in 2002 when very few post-bubble investors were impressed by an undergrad with a big non-Web tech vision – it worked out nicely”

    Did it “work out” exactly like you planned with no deviations at all from your initial plan? I've been a co-founder or part of the management team of four startups over the last 11 years and each of them required fairly drastic changes in plan in order to succeed at all. To me, there is nothing faddish or “market hype” about that strategy at all.

    Lean thinking in startups is all about reducing the time to find a business model that can sustain the company – lumping that in with the idea of an “investment bubble” makes no sense to me. One is operational and can be used by any company in any industry while the other is a purely speculative/investment concept that has nothing to do with “lean” or “pivoting”.

  • http://www.techentrepreneurship.com Helge Seetzen

    There are two levels to any venture: strategy and tactics. Strategy includes you vision, predictions about the future and the overarching “scheme” that you believe will make money in that predicted future (e.g. business model, technology, customer behaviour, etc.). Tactics fill in that strategic roadmap (e.g. product features, product types, monetization models, etc.).

    I think that a lot of start-up founders confuse the two and apply the “failing fast” mindset to both strategic and tactical decisions. I believe that's a mistake and it stems from the relatively “quishy” and misleading definition of all the currently trendy terminology (e.g. “failing fast” =/= failing, “lean” =/= lean, etc.). That's of course just my opinion.

    Tactical decisions should be subject to the scientific method of establishing a theory, conducting experiments against it, and iterate in the event of experimental results opposite to the theory predictions (the web calls this “lean” but it has been around since Aristotle). That's just good decision making and should be used in all undertakings (start-up, corporate, science, private, etc.).

    Strategy is different (in my opinion). Entrepreneurs make money not because they are smarter than other people but rather because they take more risk. That means that you have to pick a strategic vision that isn't (yet) popular with everybody else. You establish that strategy through research of your target market, modeling/predicting of future behaviours in that market and in general understanding more about the dynamics. And once you have it, you better stick to that vision. Your investors, your staff and any other stakeholder is in essence betting on your strategic prediction.

    The difference here is that the strategic vision will absolutely receive some negative feedback. That's the point of it. If everybody goes “yeah, that makes sense” from day one then you are probably not taking a big enough risk to warrant a massive entrepreneurial payout. Abandoning your strategy on the basis of such feedback undermines the whole concept of entrepreneurship.

    You asked about my first start-up, so I will answer in the context of my definition above. We iterated tactical decisions like crazy as we received market feedback. But we absolutely held the course on the strategy. The founding predictions of the venture (in 2001) were that
    a) Humans like to see digital images at the same high contrast and colour as available to them in the real world (we researched the heck out of it – I even spent 8 months in a neuroscience/psychophysics vision lab to explore the limits and desires here)
    b) LCD technology is going to dominate the display space but will be unable to achieve the contrast levels needed for a) due to limits of physics (again, this was a deeply researched perspective and far from obvious in 2001)
    c) LED will be become a viable commercial illumination source due to technological advancement and additional political pressure for “green” lighting (again, lots of research behind this)

    Those strategic visions did not change one bit during the life of the company *despite* massive negative market feedback. During my first public presentation of this concept at the largest display tech conference I had several top executives of the largest TV companies publically ridicule our idea (maybe understandably, our “prototype TV” was more expensive than five Ycombinator start-ups today…). We held to the strategy out of conviction in our predictions (which in turn came from our understanding of the market dynamics and research thereof).

    Today, those same TV companies ship more “LED TV” revenue per year than even Facebook's bloated valuation (though we clearly didn't make as much on the exit as Mark Zuckerberg stands to gain if they ever IPO :) ).

    Don't get me wrong, testing your hypothesis through experiment is a great idea at the tactical level. If that's all “lean startup” refers to then I am its biggest fan. But too often I see entrepreneurs use it at the strategic levels and at that point “failing fast” usually really just means failing (in the English language sense of the word).

    PS: I recognise that my distinction of strategy vs tactics is open to semantic quibbles. Please resist the urge to do so and take the words at their intent.

    PPS: You asked about the tie in to “bubbles” in all this. The connection is simply that in a “windy environment” (e.g. an expanding bubble) it is often easier to get net gain at the early stage of a venture so rapidly “pivoting”/”failing fast” at the strategy level can actually make you money even if you are abandoning valuable concepts (e.g. if the act of “founding” alone creates a 10x valuation multiplier due to hype and you can find a sucker buyer, you are actually better off cycling through projects like crazy instead of making a good idea work). I just don't think that's a long term viable strategy for investors or entrepreneurs (it stops when the wind stops blowing).

    PPPS: I should probably make this in a blog post all by itself… sorry for the length, verbosity is one of my many failings.

  • Barrettcohn

    A cathartic read, Mark. As a company in the midst of a “B round” raise, there is temptation to pivot (sorry, buzz word) to appease a potential VC funder. We have an internal mantra that we as a company will continue paving the path we feel most passionate about even if it's not what the investment community wants right now. In the end, perhaps this will prove self-defeating but therein lies the risk of entrepreneurship.

  • http://www.techentrepreneurship.com Helge Seetzen

    Couldn't resist. Here is the long version in a blog format (with a bit better editing too I hope): http://bit.ly/dTkebB

  • http://www.techentrepreneurship.com Helge Seetzen

    Couldn't resist. Here is the long version in a blog format (with a bit better editing too I hope): http://bit.ly/dTkebB

  • joeagliozzo

    I think “vision” is highly overrated, personally.

    Sure it's probably true that if smart people get it right away it's possibly too obvious to be a “big idea”. However, “big ideas” are so hard to execute on and success so influenced by a confluence of perfect timing and other semi-random events that I don't think most entrepreneurs should hang their hat on coming up with a “vision” that is a “big idea”.

    It's much more reliable and likely eventually profitable if you simply find unmet needs and meet them. The bigger the unmet need (size of the market) the bigger the opportunity. Sure, it takes “vision” because you are seeing a solution that nobody presumably saw before, but at least it's based on a real, verifiable customer need.

    How you go about meeting that need is the pivot (if necessary) and how many product cycles you can go through to meet that need, at a cost that allows a profit, in a form that can be sold to a customer or through a channel before you run out of money is the essence of lean thinking.

  • http://www.howardlindzon.com howardlindzon

    I thought turkeys could fly …wkrp in cincinatti….a top 5 show of all time :)

    great stuff suster ftw

  • http://twitter.com/stnor Stefan Norberg

    I thought the saying was “in a hurricane, even pigs can fly” :)

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Now I'll have to read up on pricing strategies based on company cycles, growth vs contraction(not good but it happens). Appreciate the tip. Was the upsell based on how you framed your product? You may have covered it earlier and I missed the post.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Agreed. Some turkeys don't indeed fly ;)

    Pre-emptive blog analogy defense. Disqus makes it less necessary as commenters tend to behave reasonably well.

    If you look at Mark's blog growth, he deals with many eyes on each post per month, and investing in a small time savings now pays off later. The trouble and blessing with blogs, is that when they grow large it becomes difficult to respond to all the comments. Decreasing noise is a necessary evil.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1046896065 Daniel Cool

    The great physicist Dirac once said something similar about his discovery:“It was very easy in those days for any second-rate physicist to do first-rate work. There has not been such a glorious time since then. It is very difficult now for a first rate physicist to do second-rate work”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1046896065 Daniel Cool

    There's also another one similar to “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked” , which is “Only in the darkest of nights can you see the stars”…

  • http://www.techentrepreneurship.com Helge Seetzen

    Semantics aside, I think we are actually agreeing more than disagreeing. We are both talking about identifying a need that nobody (or few) people currently see. That's a vision, right?

    The difference is I think the domain dynamics that we are talking about. In the Web2.0 space you can “verify” the need by putting up a website and checking analytics. You can also make (some) money very quickly and in fact have all other financial events occur roughly on the same timescale as your expenses (i.e. product development, monetization, customer engagement, etc. all happens in a matter of months similar to your payroll and other expense items).

    That's simply not true in the 85% of the remaining venture world. In all those other domains the timescale of your expenses is monthly while the timescale of monetization is years. When that's true, it is essential to have a deeper vision in order to bridge the time gaps (and use less direct “verification” techniques such as theory, research and long range models).

  • http://twitter.com/Holaba Holaba

    Hi Mark,

    This one was good: “It’s why as an investor I look for talented teams with long-term vision, a unique point-of-view, differentiated IP and a desire to build something enduring.”

    You also look for teams building something enduring in China?

    Jan Van den Bergh

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Vision is very important and being able to do it in time brackets per your explanation is essential. For those that have vision seeing specifics can do the pivot from a reverse engineering perspective vs. the one who pivots out of desperation to stay alive, which leads to funky % combination of early to latter investors.

    Good post Helge.

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Hence the majority are present/past thinking rather than present/future….so it is hard to get someone to understand future/present which places you in a better position regarding pivots.