A lot of people were upset by the mysterious Kevin Curry’s post on Techvibes, seeing it as sort of an ad hominem attack on the Vancouver technology community, not to mention a personal jab at some of its better known entrepreneurs. Mostly it reminded me of a joke a former colleague used to make in meetings when poking fun at how big Telco companies operated. He’d say “I’m not here to solve problems; I’m hear to point fingers and assign blame.”
But I’ve been thinking about the issues raised in the article and the ensuing comments and I wonder if we’re making this debate far too complicated. Perhaps the answer is more fundamentally to do with the thorny issue of actually defining the technology community and technology companies.
Here’s an idea… How about we stop talking about the technology community altogether. In fact, let’s even stop talking about technology companies and focus instead on the heart of the matter: the natural evolution of every business from idea, to start-up, to break-even, to glorious profitability. These are the different phases in a company’s life in which it needs radically different kinds of support, leadership and, yes, community. The similarities between technology and non-technology businesses in their different life stages far outweigh their differences, but for some reason we’ve cordoned off tech businesses in the belief that they live and die by their own special set of rules.
Virtually every great company has achieved its success by creating an innovative product, but also by thoroughly understanding and executing on sales and distribution. Innovation can be as simple as making something more cheaply than anyone else, or as complex as creating an entirely new channel for sales. These are very difficult things to do, and historically the tech. community has neglected helping entrepreneurs garner a better understanding of how they’re done.
Now you might say that it makes more sense to invest all of your resources in engineering and building a first-rate product than in what comes next. After all, isn’t the job of the start-up first and foremost to make something great? Yes it is, but it’s misleading to think of the product as being distinct from how it will get to market, and this false distinction contributes to what so many start-ups find themselves doing: running extremely fast only to arrive very quickly at the brick wall that is a product with no distribution. And worse still, no meaningful plan for distribution.
Investors and the technology community as a whole are often equally guilty of encouraging start-ups to defer or ignore anything other than the product, which creates a vicious circle of building things simply for the sake of building them. Which in turn produces a lot of companies and products that probably no-one really wants, needs or cares about. Which in turn provides lots of ammunition to those who like to sit on the sidelines and throw mud.
So perhaps the broken nature of early stage funding for Vancouver technology companies can best be addressed by not thinking of them as “technology companies” with their own special set of rules. Instead they are simply early stage companies that, like every other early stage company that’s gone before, need guidance in understanding the different stages they’ll have to go through to get from initial concept to commercial success.
Don’t get me wrong, I like DemoCamp and Launch Party as much as the next person, and in the past I’ve even been foolishly critical of DemoCamp for opening the doors to non-tech businesses. But I’d like to see a more inclusive community, which accepts that, first and foremost, we’re all in the early stages of building businesses, and our challenges are more to do with the early stage bit than the industries in which we operate.
It seems to me that this approach would do two things: open the doors for a whole heap of support and guidance from outside our own little circle; and silence the critics who see our insular nature as an opportunity to attack.