Look behind you
In 1998, two young investment bankers decided they’d rather spend their time creating a startup. But by April 2001 they were out of business. That’s not that interesting. Many startups go out of business. What’s interesting to me is how many projects just like them have succeeded.
I’ve recently started a daily vlog. Vlog still sounds like such a funny word. Though I remember when “blog” sounded just as weird. I thought it was so odd when I heard of folks in 2001 trying their hands at blogging.
So off I go into what still feels like newish territory with my own vlog. Obviously the most important part of the vlog is I’m out there filming stuff about my day. I’ve got a camera with me everywhere: an iPhone, a GoPro, and DSLR. Whatever’s handy.
I’m constantly looking for “the shot”, scanning my environment. What’s around me that is so intriguing and different that it’d make an interesting clip for today’s post?
Something that keeps striking me about this exercise is how often the most interesting shot is behind me.
I’ll be running in a park and irritated that I haven’t found anything interesting yet, and then I turn my head around and realize that what I’ve been moving away from for awhile now is exactly the thing I want to capture.
It’s as if my head is so lost in forward, forward, forward, I forget to look back and observe the opportunity that’s already behind me.
That flameout startup during the dotcom bubble was Kozmo.com. You could get 1 hour, free delivery of movies, food, gadgets and more. We used the service constantly. And always wondered how it could survive when they delivered a single DVD rental in an hour for FREE. Turns out they couldn’t.
Except it’s not that simple. At the time when they shutdown, I did some digging and found that in some cities Kozmo.com was profitable. They were making enough money on the big orders that it paid for the small orders. But in some cities where there was a lot of urban sprawl, they had a hard time making money as they had to pay so much to their delivery crew. That, plus all these special warehouses they built to store inventory in the end, caused them to burn through their cash before they could see things through.
But in some cities their model was actually working.
For years I’ve read startup forums where a new startup announces trying “instant delivery” and commenters pile on: “They’re going to fail just like Kozmo.com”.
Then a bunch haven’t failed. Instacart is doing gangbusters. Amazon’s Prime Now service just keeps expanding. Of course times have changed. Mobile supercomputers in our pockets have changed the details of delivery that couldn’t happen yet when Kozmo tried this. And the Instacarts and Amazons have figured out the logistics that Kozmo.com got wrong.
But the core idea, the one that was behind us the whole time, instant delivery: was actually a good one. A lot of people missed it though. They were only looking forward at what seems ahead, the currently hyped: virtual reality, artificial intelligence, chat bots. No problem with that. No problem with trying to see ahead and see what the future holds.
It’s just that sometimes, and maybe more often than we think, the best ideas are actually behind us.