How I didn’t manage to launch startups in the middle of the dotcom boom

December 20, 2011 · Filed Under identity based praxis, reflections 

Sometime in the summer of 1999, late at night in my apartment in Toronto I spent hours with my friend Zar discussing an incredible idea: let’s say you watch Matrix (came out that year) on DVD, you like Neo’s shades, you click on it with the remote control and voila: you can buy it. I know: you also thought about this idea back then. Everybody did!!!

We of course didn’t stop there: we wanted to expand the range to the big screen and to television as well.

As we were analyzing how we could solve this on television ( our goal was to start with DVD, then television then the big screen by which time our smart phone dreams would sure become realities) we realized that we would need an additional device for the TV. I won’t bore you with the business model we came up with. The bottom line is that we also came up with the set top box idea. When I saw (still in ’99) that “they” launched Tivo I was freaking out: we’re running out of time!!!

We had to stop these discussions a couple of times: Zar had to go and do a gig somewhere in the world -back then he typically picked his assignment based on the proximity of ski resorts or surfing paradises – nowadays it’s all golfing, but that’s a completely different and even more interesting story.
I also had a business to run.

We never even made it to the fund raising process. Tivo made it. Tons of others made it in 1999. It was a magical year… for those guys. For us: just another one. And for that year: we were just another one of the million: two guys fantasizing about great things.

Less than year later and two weeks before the crash in 2000 when we were schmoozing at one of those parties with free drinks and fancy food in San Francisco where all you have to say is that “ I am from the VentureOne conference” and nobody asks you for any proof just lets you in, one guy from the Canadian trade development agency whose job was to schmooze professionally described us as: sex, drugs and rock&roll. He clearly referred to the sex appeal of the lady (also a good friend) who was our professional schmoozer as sex and he made it very clear that he means Zar when he says rock&roll. The crazy idea we were pitching at the time (a different one which also never made it!) probably really qualified me for the drugs part. So let’s just say we thought we had it all.

In retrospective we missed only one thing: GRAVITY. We failed to attract top people around our ideas from our own circles. If I assume that the tv / cinema commerce idea was good (and I don’t see this thing happening yet, so maybe it was a bad idea), it was simply not meant to happen through us. We had to move on to the next thing.

OR: maybe the idea was too far off for us to draw us into its field of gravity: I was doing poetry (consulting on leadership and strategy issues), Zar was doing prose (building enterprise software architecture): there was no irresistible pull towards this idea for us to dedicate ENOUGH time away from what we were doing to build a prototype.

As for Zar: he went on to build great things for the Fortune 50, while he also wrote a book to change how golf is played and another one that basically revolutionized the game of bridge.

The Gravity Problem, when good people don’t see big opportunities to be close enough to their perceived reality, is pervasive, I see it all the time in all imaginable situations:

- people not getting excited about great job offers because they perceive it to be too high for them

- guys not making moves for certain women because they perceive them to be out of their league

- companies unable to reach break-through because of the patterns that dominate their organization

- people not quitting their unfulfilling jobs because the gravitational pull of their CONDITIONS (good salary, kids, mortgage, lifestyle, whatever) is too strong

This is absolutely fine! The nature of conditions is that they don’t want you to leave, they pull you back: without you they are nothing.

We just need to be clear about this problem and work with it: organizing ourselves accordingly…and how to organize is incredibly interesting; coming up next.

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