Category: culture

Why Context Matters

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.

context-matters

Why The Big Bang Theory is No Good For Start-Ups

No disrespect to the actors here from the Bing commercial or anyone that dresses like them, unless you're a faker not a hustler.
No disrespect to the actors here from the Bing commercial or anyone that dresses like them, unless you’re a faker not a hustler.

Two people in their early twenties, maybe even still in school think of something and it becomes the next big thing. They built an early version in their dorm room, garage, or basement (maybe dropped out of school), get an early investor/mentor and the rest is history – acquisition, IPO, millions and billions of users and money. The stories of YouTube, Facebook, Google, even Microsoft are the stuff of legend and over the past 10-15 years has resulted in more people than ever chasing the start-up dream. If it can happen to them why can’t it happen to me?

When Google bought YouTube mainstream culture changed. The whiz kid behind Facebook cemented that change. Now its cool to be a nerd.

People everywhere heard stories that Google was buying a company for over a billion dollars that was less than two years old and created by two kids. What?!? A billion dollars! That’s crazy. Then along came Facebook with its baby-faced founder taking on the world hoodie and all. Shit, even Justin Timberlake wanted to be in on it. A world that was once reserved for geeks became pop culture.

My favorite comic Bill Burr (@billburr) laments how the natural order of things has been upset now that the nerd is cool. That’s not how it used. I’m lucky enough to make my living doing the digital things I love but growing up I was at the park in my neighborhood playing basketball, football, and road hockey until the street lights came on. The kids that were coding in their basement usually weren’t the most popular kids at school. When they did come to the park they would take their lumps. Doesn’t make it right but that’s how it was (before I get “you support bullying” emails let me be clear…any bully needs to have his ass kicked…yes I know that defeats the purpose but that’s how I was raised. Its called self-defense).

But just like the stock market, you hear about the few that hit big not the many more than sank. You hear about and celebrate the winners and try to forget the losers. Behind the hype is the hustle. There’s a lesson in that for first time founders.

Zuck is this generation’s Bill Gates. The difference is that when Microsoft was growing up it wasn’t cool to be a techie. The company’s software was on every computer and desktop but its young founders weren’t in social media or talked about on the internet. Because these things didn’t exist or were not mainstream in the 80’s and a large part of the 90’s. The last 10 years are special, and the last 5 even more-so. Bill Gates became famous for being rich not for what he created while he (and Ballmer, Allen, etc.) were creating it. If Bill Gates was in high school in the 80s he would have been picked on. Today, Zuck would be the Prom king. Times have changed.

I absolutely love the mainstream recognition that anyone can live their dreams, even those guys you once thought were nerds. That’s the great thing. Tech has joined the glamor group of music, movies, and sports but the problem is that just like in those industries there are too many fakers in the game. There are so many people who dress geek, talk geek, and want to be associated with the “start-up scene” but aren’t prepared for the hard work, rejection, and struggle it takes to make it big. It’s the guys (and girls) that are grounded that make it happen. I usually meet them through a connection because you don’t see them around much. They come up for air at important events but mostly they’re busy working not pretending. Don’t get me wrong, get out there and meet people but do it as part of your hustle not to play the part.

MESSY HAIR, THICK RIMMED GLASSES, AND HAVING A NECK BEARD WON’T MAKE YOU A SUCCESS. IT TAKES HUSTLE AND HARD WORK.

Steve Chen and Chad Hurley (YouTube) worked at PayPal and learned from the bright minds there before they created YouTube. Zuckerberg listened to great mentors like Peter Thiel and Sean Parker who taught him the ropes. These guys all dreamt big but they also learned, put in work, and hustled. Success came because of all the risk, sweat, pain, and belief that made it happen. That they became as mainstream as rock stars was a by-product of the success that came from the hard work. Elon Musk is the guy you should follow. He’s a throwback; really changing the world and your mother doesn’t know him.

So, have an idea? Get at it. Don’t walk around like you’re a Big Bang Theory cast member and just talk about what you’re doing without doing it.

  • Put less time “talking the talk” and more time building.
  • Seek out mentors that can help you learn and grow.
  • Build something you’re proud of then show it.
  • Learn, refine, fail, come back harder, stronger, and wiser.
  • Keep hustlin’ like hell.

Have your hustle strong and something special? Drop me a line, I’d be glad to help.

If you have an appetite for honest comedy and not stuck on political correctness, then here’s Bill Burr on nerds (skip to the 3:00 minute mark, and incase you’re reading this at work, there is swearing).