It’s true that many early stage companies fail because they exist before their time. The founders might believe in their innovation and it might in fact, truly be something great, but the market or ecosystem is not ready. An arguably classic example is interactive television. Launch an interactive TV effort in the 90s and you’re dead, try it now and you’re fighting for market share as everyone big and small is innovating for TV. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to know if they’re on to something special and if the world is ready. This is called context, and the success of a start-up can sometimes boil down to having the right context to make key decisions early.
I attended an event earlier this year where Howard Gwin (@howardgwin) spoke about context and what he said stuck with me. These aren’t his exact words (I’m probably butchering it) but the message is what’s important not my limited brain power; it went something like this…
“I may not be building the next great company right now but I’ve been around a lot. Over the years I’ve worked with start-ups and major corporations, on multiple boards, and in venture. So, I have been fortunate to see a lot of things work and not work. What I have is context and context is a key thing entrepreneurs need when starting and growing companies.”
Context comes from asking people who have valuable insight because they’ve been there and done that, work in the industry, or are from your target consumer audience. For example; if you’re building something targeted to automotive designers, you should go talk to someone who designs cars for a living. If you’re building a product that you want moms to buy, no one will give you better context than your neighbor with three kids.
Not exact science but below is graphic to share the point. Even visionaries that throw caution to the wind and change the world start from a place of context. They see a problem, dream of a solution, and let nothing stop them. But they do so knowing that their idea may have never been tried or that they had that all illusive lightbulb moment, tested their theory, and it all made sense. And sometimes they’re still wrong and live to fight and change the world another day.