In The Startup Land Of The Blind
“In the land of the blind… the one-eyed man is king.” – Desiderius Erasmus
When I first started my career as a technology businessboy in 1978, there were no PC’s? As a sales trainee for Lexitron, I had to walk to training classes every day, barefoot in the snow to learn the language of these newfangled computie things. Upon graduation, when I said RAM (Random Access Memory) to prospects at the white house they would say…. “Huh?” When I was working with people at the Federal Reserve Board, smart people would look at me in awe as I talked about 8-bit Zilog Z80 Microprocessors, and bits, and bytes and baud. My colleagues at Lexitron and I were like theoretical physicist, rocket scientists… we spoke the digital language of computers while everyone else in the world was analog.
When we met with smart, non-digital natives, we were the one-eyed man in the land of the non-digital blind. We were rocket scientists to lowly lawyers, doctors, CEO’s who listened to us bandy words like asynchronous communications and they looked at us as if we were wizards sent to earth from some mythical planet of the technoids.
In 1996, I landed a consulting contract with Silicon Valley-based NetDynamics (at that time called Spider Software). In 1996, when most of you were still wearing diapers, the WWW (World Wide Web) was a new phenomenon. At that time the standard web servers were stateless environments which meant creating e-commerce systems that were able to maintain a transactional state was a herculean task. NetDynamics, later acquired by Sun Microsystems and incorporated in their standard web server easily enabled programmers to maintain state and define start and end points for all the micro-transactions contained within a complex transaction.
Many of you are now saying, WTF did he just say because I just one-eyed-manned you! I would speak at Web Technology Symposiums all over the country for NetDynamics where most humans were internet neophytes. They were the blind and I was the king and I could almost say anything and those people would believe me.
The point is, I wasn’t special… I didn’t know much. I was a parrot. I was a pretender. I was the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. The point is I could have told my audience that for an additional $3 thousand they could add optional platyptilia citropleura to the system which would speed it up by 50X achilla orrus and I would have sold like twice as many plasteels as my fellow one-eyed men.
Today, startups and the world of Venture Capital in DC is like the land of the blind and there are way too many one-eyed men and women who pretend to be king. Things like 1776 represent the kingdoms of the blind. In many cases there are people in this town, speaking as startup community leaders who have never worked for a startup, never raised capital, never had to make a payroll and who are leading the blind astray.
In the land of the blind, it is easy to be baffled with bullshit. Our ecosystem is full of know-nothing bullshiterati. They teach people how to pitch to VCs, hold study halls, do surveys, run pay-t0-play fundraising pitch events. They’re all part of the Startup Industrial Complex (SIC), trying to profit off of blind startup dreams of the wantrepreneur. The wantrepreneur is the gold miner to the SIC. Purveyors of picks and shovels to the startup gold rush.
“During the gold rush its a good time to be in the pick and shovel business” – Mark Twain
Here’s the thing kids…. If you want to be a Silicon Valley-like startup entrepreneur get some experience, become an apprentice. Work for a Silicon Valley-based company or one of the few Silicon-Valley-Like startups right here in DC. Do your time with a real startup. Learn from real startup pros. There are many of them in this town. They are just too busy doing real stuff to be selling picks and shovels to suckers.
But before you have someone who never started a company, always been an employee, never raised capital, and never had a successful M&A or IPO exit… teach you how to start a company, be a leader, raise capital, and grow to a profitable exit…. remember you are just as blind as that baffling bullshitter. You can pretend to know what you’re talking about just as much as they do.
So either make sure you’re learning from a person who’s been there and done it, like a Steve Blank (there are no Steve Blank’s in DC), go work for a good company like EverFi or Hurdlr or Territory, or just do it yourself. Because the one-eyed men in DC are blind in their only eye. Oh, and whatever you do… never ever let your lumitarian deasponder run lower than 6 ohms.