Missed Moments from Phones to Fundraising

Walt’s bench

Disneyland, the legend goes, started on this bench. A bench that now sits just inside the Opera House near the park’s entrance. If not for the flashes of insight and inspiration that occurred on this bench, the legend goes, Disneyland may not exist today.

“Disneyland really began,” Walt once said, “when my two daughters were very young. Saturday was always Daddy’s Day, and I would take them to the merry-go-round and sit on a bench eating peanuts while they rode. And sitting there, alone, I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.”

I think about Walt and his bench often.

Less for inspiration about what could be, more as a cautionary tale for what might not.

You see, if Walt were sitting on that bench today he would be far more likely to have a phone in his hand than a bag of peanuts. And as his girls whirled and screamed whizzing around the merry-go-round, Walt would be far more likely to be scrolling Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Snapchat or Fortnite or...

The flash of inspiration that came as his mind began to wander may have never sparked in a world filled with deeply distracting devices. As a result, Disneyland is a story of what is, not what might have been or what never was.

I was reminded of Walt’s bench last week in conversation with my friend Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics. As we explored the history of his company and the decade they spent bootstrapping, we both kept lingering around an idea neither of us could quite articulate.

There was a massive benefit to the bootstrapping years of Qualtrics. In fact, Ryan would argue that the organizational muscle memory built during those lean years is what has allowed them to be so successful as they’ve scaled. There’s a creativity and scrappiness required when resources are constrained that can’t be taught, it must be lived. Instincts and ideas that led to the success of Qualtrics were often at odds with the conventional wisdom of the valley. Knowing what worked for them created a confidence to continue making bold, counterintuitive bets long after they raised traditional venture funding despite raised eyebrows from their VCs.

Yet, in the face of all of the real and tangible benefits of constraints and scrappiness, how do you get founders to experience something they are seeking so actively to avoid?

That’s the question than hung in the air for us both.

That’s the question that led my mind back to Walt’s bench.

With so many founders distracted or enamored with fundraising, it feels like there may be many that are missing the merry-go-round. It isn’t an obvious distraction and there aren’t necessarily near term effects. Like the addiction we have to our phones, there’s a subtly to it that’s hard to convey.

Would Walt have been looking at his phone and missed the spark for Disneyland? Might founders be so distracted with fundraising, or deploying the cash they’ve raised, they miss out on the long term benefits that come learning to thrive through years of scrappiness and constraints?

The only way to know for sure is to put down the phone, or step away from the pitch deck, and start living through it to find out.