Timing and the Team
If you follow an idea long enough, you’ll be right eventually.
In the past few days I’ve had the above thought land in front of my face several times in various mediums. Not explicitly, but that is how I’m choosing to decipher it. First I read an article about a VC firm’s investments in Twitch and Periscope, the second was while watching the newly released Steve Jobs movie.
The author of the VC article ‘open sources’ thoughts behind backing Justin.tv’s pivot away from community driven live video streaming towards live gaming TV(Twitch) seven years after its founding. Then goes on to discuss similar thoughts on why they backed Periscope(recently purchased by Twitter). Periscope seemed to have quickly and tangibly realized the vision of live video that Justin.tv originally set out to tackle almost a decade earlier, but didn’t have their immediate success. Why?
They had the team, and as all entrepreneurs have been explained umpteenth times, the team is the most important item to a mature investor. In this case, the timing was off. In 2007 the iPhone was brand new, Twttr was a text message only interface and Facebook was a toddler. In hindsight, who in their right might would have thought live video would have taken off then? If you were to have asked me this question in 2007, I would have explained to you that it should have taken off already and we were behind the curve. But just because I could ‘see’ the obvious, doesn’t mean society was ready. In reality, anyone could have gone to their local cable access station and created a live show, but the barrier to entry was too high and the audience was too small.
With Justin.tv, in 2007 I had to have very specialized equipment if I wanted to broadcast live video anywhere. Today, this specialized equipment sits in my pocket as well as billions of other pockets which makes the timing ripe for Periscope’s rise. In hindsight, it now seems obvious that technology needed to catch up alongside the maturation of social media, but how do you predict that timing?
As to my Jobs reference, the movie (while mostly fictional in portrayal) displayed his multi-decade pursuit of putting a computer in the hands of everyone in the world. In 1977 when the Apple II was released, there was pent up demand from a core group of users that bit into Apple furiously providing both Wozniak and Jobs extreme wealth in their early years. Between the two of them they had the team, but VisiCalc the first spreadsheet software provided desirable timing. Media outlets and the market tell us that Jobs was gifted and special, but he possessed a team of guardian angels first in Steve Wozniak and later in Jony Ive. What if Jobs had never met Wozniak? What if Wozniak allowed the Apple II to be non expandable like Jobs had desired? What if there was no VisiCalc?
Elegant hardware and the software version of a paper ledger launched a platform for them and their company to dictate headlines whenever they desired for decades to come. Had the Apple II been more like the Altair(without the utility of software), what would have become of the two young geeks? Would Jobs have still been a magazine cover darling, would he have been successful at all? How much later in life and what would his creations be? In this alternate reality, the iPhone/iPad device we know and love would have still existed, just likely at a much later date and from a different visionary. Someone would have realized Alan Kay’s vision of the Dynabook in hardware form and Jobs would not have been a messiah.
As we saw in Back to the Future II twenty six years ago, when we think about the future, we’re generally correct in knowing what direction the ship is headed. We’re wrong here and there, but many people can look at a product or process and envision a better way. It’s up to the ones who decide to do something about it, tirelessly struggling each day through doubt and depression to move the needle forward just a bit or build that next earth shattering creation. Most will fail and that’s life, but there can’t be greatness without the pursuit.
This philosophical thought coming from a failed entrepreneur. Maybe not a complete failure, but I don’t look backwards and see much success. While that feeling is continually difficult to swallow, I have(hopefully) the beautiful mystery of my greatest work being in front of me. This reminds me of a quote from the Thomas Crown Affair where Rene Russo asks Thomas Crown if making the money was more fun than having it. Peaking early sounds like a whimsical fantasy to me, but had I been successful at 25 would I have the wisdom and grit I have now?
Each day is a challenge for each of us whether we’re published on the covers of magazines or in a garage hacking away living off Ramen. We will have our ups and downs, but it’s important to surround yourself with the right team whether they be cofounders, employees, family or friends.
Unfortunately you can’t predict timing, but I’ll leave you with this:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”
— Steve Jobs