venture capital

The Founder's Eye: prelude

This is part of my ongoing Series on Getting from Zero to One in your Startup.

I had the pleasure of reading Patrick O'Brian's biography of Picasso in the mid-nineties. O'Brian is of course best known for his magnificent Aubrey-Maturin series, but he was actually also friendly with Picasso and wrote a tremendous biography about him in the seventies. Throughout the book are references to Picasso's magnificent artistic eye. The "eye" is at various points called "beaming", "knowing", "young", "intelligent", "dark", "lustrous", "gleaming", "compassionate", the "brilliant window to his mind", "piercing". I never forgot this emphasis O'Brian put on that all-seeing Picassoan eye which, in O'Brian's judgment, was the source of the great genius of the man. All this stood out to me because it was one of the few occasions in the biography of an artist or writer that I'd read, in which the author even tried to comprehend the nature/origins of his subject's genius. As an artist himself (and a great one), and as a friend of Picasso's, O'Brian dared to tread in that realm.

So where am I going with this? Well, it's well established by now that many visionary founders are artists in their own right. The world-changing companies they build are their particular canvas.

I think all visionary founders who have built great companies possess a "magnificent eye". Think of all that it must capture and perceive:

  • an immense and compelling vision for something that doesn't exist and that few can see or understand
  • the innate understanding of what team members are needed to help make some version of this vision a reality
  • the confidence and charisma to convince teammates, partners, investors, customers, the media, and others that their vision (or something close to it) coming to fruition is inevitable
  • the tenacity to overcome extreme opposition, to pivot, to change direction and adapt to new information and changing circumstances

So next time you're looking to join a startup, or, if you're an angel or VC to invest in an entrepreneur's company, look for the Picassoan eye, that mythical Founder's Eye.... is it there or are they kidding themselves and perhaps you?

Or maybe you have it yourself? If so, make haste, the world is waiting for you.

For the next post in the Getting from Zero to One Series click here

Your Customers

This is part of my ongoing Series on Getting from Zero to One.

You have been refining and cultivating your map almost daily by now, pursuing a succession of firsts. The exercise has not been in vain. Steadily you approach the time when you will launch your new business. The early team somehow is materializing. You are readying yourself through preparation, listening, thinking, learning. Your mantra of Vision, Team, Technology/Product continues.... you are iterating on it all in parallel. You have reams of google docs prepared which include your financial model, your potential customers, your potential advisors, partners, investors, team members, product road map, and the like.

But do you really understand your customer and the problem you seek to remedy? How deeply have you examined it? Have you spoken at length with potential customers, partners and experienced hands in this space? What is the competitive landscape? What is your true addressable market and is it substantial enough? What unfair(!) competitive advantage will you be bringing to this space? What makes this venture truly special? Lastly, as Heinemeier-Hansson asks- is it your best idea?

There is no escaping complete immersion in this market in that you must understand its every nuance. You must speak to the actual people who dwell in it every day of their lives and understand what their experiences and challenges are. By doing so you will stress-test your initial assumptions, meet potential customers, partners, founders, team members, and perhaps new friends. You will no doubt find yourself adjusting your model, your map, your strategy. By the time you launch everyone should know you and many of them should be willing to work with you and use your product- it is the only way. Startups are a community activity, not a solitary exercise. Have you familiarized yourself with the work of Steve Blank? Do you deeply understand the art of customer development? Have you read the work of Giff Constable. I recommend you do so now.

You must also know that your first foray into this market will probably not strike the bullseye- so your company must be designed with flexibility in mind, always ready to pivot and iterate until you find the right product/market fit.

So while you consider everything else we have been discussing in getting from Zero to One, remember- all of these considerations are subsumed by the overarching reality of the needs of "the customer". This is the realm in which you will operate and you will always be hyper-attuned and in a never-ending conversation with your customers.