Launching Tech Startups is More Alchemy Than Many Would Like to Believe
What comes to mind when you hear the word alchemy? I think most people think of crazy medieval men trying to make gold out of various other matter. I think there are some correlations to modern venture building and investing.
- It’s mostly men, unfortunately, though that is starting to shift.
- Often, at least in emerging tech like artificial intelligence, blockchain, mixed reality, quantum computing, or even data, people know as much about the technology or its potential and future as medieval alchemists did about turning things into gold.
- Like medieval alchemy, the goal is to create what many think impossible.
The dictionary definition of alchemy is ‘a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination’. Alchemy was the predecessor to chemistry which has come to enable a multitude of amazing products that have bettered and enriched our lives. So in the end, those alchemists weren’t so crazy after all. They sensed something that was not yet known, and their experiments brought about a whole field of science.
I believe that venture is modern alchemy. As venture builders and investors, we are trying to enable the seemingly impossible to happen — creating transformative products with technologies a small segment of the population has expertise and experience in, much less knowledge; getting people to push the boundaries of technology/science and their own abilities; and doing it all with very little resources, stretching available time to its limits.
We should acknowledge how little we know about venture, particularly in emerging tech. Though I’ve seen some interesting evolution since I first started working in this sector six years ago with various VCs developing more sophisticated theses beyond the typical invest-in-a-bunch-hoping-1-outstrips-the-portfolio approach, we as a sector haven’t yet figured out the formula. In the scientific method, the business equivalent being the Lean Startup, when you don’t know something, a lot of experimentation and failures with rigorous learnings from those failures need to happen. I believe we are at the early stages of that process.
At Serval Ventures, we’ve been experimenting to try to figure out what makes startup gold. We have a draft working formula and are working to rigorously test and evolve it. This is a big endeavor that one company cannot do alone, and we are looking for like-minded people — builders, creatives, investors, corporations, promising talent, connectors, enablers — to join or partner with us in the messy, complex, fun and exciting process of emerging tech startup alchemy.