Sunday, September 04, 2011

Are you "Michael Jordan playing Baseball"?

Much more often than I like to see, I come across entrepreneurs who remind me of Jordan retiring from basketball to try his hand at baseball in 1994 (speculations abound as to why, but nonetheless he had the good sense to pivot back to basketball just after one miserable baseball season).

These days, with the consumer Internet momentum in full swing, I see first-time and repeat entrepreneurs from many fields (including law, life sciences, and enterprise software) pitching their Powerpoints and raising money for their first consumer Internet startup. And although I am usually the optimist and last guy to discourage anyone from a path of entrepreneurship, I can't help but be quite disappointed by this crop of entrepreneurs.

My disappointment stems primarily from the fact that in this new gold rush, Silicon Valley's greatest asset (intellectual capital) is wasted on futile reinventions of the consumer Internet wheel. To the uninitiated, building this shiny "wheel" may seem as simple as outsourcing a website and hooking it up with a set of "spokes" consisting of a database, Google Analytics, and a Facebook Connect integration to boot. But those who have been through the ordeal before, know better.

For starters, you need an understanding and appreciation of what it means to deliver a virtual consumer user experience that delights and transforms casual visitors to engaged users who would return and promote your services via repeated interactions. You need an appreciation of the delicate interplay between your technology platform and analytics, traffic and rapid iteration (aka A/B testing). And you need to understand how critical time is to everything you do. Which means, you cannot afford to start from ground zero and therefore, need to be able to recruit expert UI & UX designers, analysts, and developers that can deliver and improve what your users need faster than competition.

Is that impossible? Of course not, but as a first-time consumer Internet entrepreneur, your chances are pretty slim unless you bring in a co-founder that has done this in the past. Plus, you will need to recruit mentors, advisors and Board members that can shed light for you on the areas that you are lacking.

In summary, my advice to first-time entrepreneurs in consumer Internet (as well as any other field) is from the onset to

(1) talk to industry experts to map out the areas of competence that you need in-house to be successful,
(2) take an honest look at the founding team to assess which areas of competence you are lacking, and
(3) recruit co-founders/advisors/mentors/board members to fill in those holes.

Although entrepreneurship is a noble endeavor, doing it without adequate preparation is socially wasteful and irresponsible.

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