Startup magic is created, not found
Early in the life of a company, it is easy to look at the success that others are having and compare yourself to their success. The behaviour is reinforced when investors often use market comparables because it makes sense that companies in similar markets at similar stages should resemble other values of similar companies.
However, it is often like playing a big game of broken telephone.
Founders announce rounds of financing. Tech media is reporting money being raised along with exits. Founders scramble to compare themselves to those numbers and that success so that they can feel some validation. To prove that they are on the right path. But the details, the timing, the ups and the downs are not reported. The years of effort; the many different steps, the side steps, the backwards movement, and all the time it took to get them to the headline.
For early stage founders it can be described as a quest to ‘find the magic’ that other founders appear to have. They believe it is something to be discovered. However, it is a sufficient amount of preparation and work that is indistinguishable from the magic. Which sounds a lot like Clarke’s third law.
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, they are almost certainly right. When they state that something is impossible, they are very probably wrong.
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
This pattern of laws in science also applies to building companies. With some small modifications - swap out scientists with founders or venture capitalists - laws hold up.
What is possible and impossible is not known for certain
Investors, founders, and just about everyone can imagine what is possible in business and they are almost always right. If they dismiss something as impossible or unlikely, they are almost always wrong. Founders must be focused on what is possible and by imagining it you make it happen over a period of time (that you rarely have any control over).
This is why plans are important. Not just imagine what is possible, tell me how you will make it so.
Limits are to be discovered, not assumed and accepted
With the ambition and planning to achieve it, you set yourself up for a future success that is likely well beyond the limits you would assume exist. Humans are terrible at estimating their own abilities. Do not limit yourself with what you know you can achieve today.
As you build and develop you make hundreds of decisions. Some good. Some are not good. You develop a team and they contribute. Your product becomes complex and your sales process is full of nuance that is learned through 100s to 1000s of conversations with customers. You have also developed the confidence to explain it all with a few sentences. From the outside it looks obvious and easy but your process to get there was difficult.
It all looks like magic
Magic is preparation and performance. It is an illusion. It is a performance that takes countless hours of practice. In a sense there is magic in the success of a company but founders must appreciate the work it takes to make something look like magic.
You create magic, you do not find it.
Helping founders build momentum and create magic
What we focus on at Eigenspace is trying to get founders to see the amount of noise around them and share the real stories about the struggles all founders have in the early stages. We help them focus on their preparation and build momentum towards an outcome.
This is not easy. Founders are often convinced there is some magic out there and if they can impress someone with having it all figured out, they will find the magic. What takes time for most to appreciate is that if you are doing the work, you have a plan, and you are building momentum… others will think you have some magic.
As the market shifts in different directions for different stages, what remains true is that a prepared founder with a dream and a pragmatic approach to achieving it is going to find success.