Startup Illusions: The Chasm Between Idea and Company is Likely a Lot Wider Than You Think

This is Heidi. She’s a Standard Poodle and Wheaten Terrier. She is nice and is ours.

On a very warm Saturday last week, we were out for our daily long walk at the beach in Toronto when she decided to run over to a cute Great Dane puppy a few meters away. There’s a lot of super solid ice under my paws now, so everything must be—


She was fine. She has fully webbed feet and a Canada Pooch (really) parka. She dragged herself out, shook vigorously, and resumed her day.

It’s not as easy with startups.

My friend and one of the brightest startup minds I know – David Quail – wrote a superb piece here in Techvibes on false positives. He argued that startups should strongly consider choosing Canada because of the false positives prevalent in Silicon Valley. I totally agree with David (pretty much always do) but also feel that this has spread to Canada, especially since the start of 2014.

Sochi made it clear to the world that, in Canada, #WeAreWinter. But Canadian startups (and my puppy) need to quickly get better at predicting the effect of changes in the weather.

Funding, as one example. In Silicon Valley, startups have a much more clearly-defined sense that friends and family and small angel rounds will likely not translate into later round funding, if we simply play the omnipresent percentages. Canadians are wildly optimistic about changes in seasons—our startups equally so when they receive any funding.

In Silicon Valley, there is a stronger realization that startups need to keep their eyes on the prize that is revenue. Often in Canada, the effort to cobble together funding to extend an early round takes attention and focus away from what has to be king, queen and prince: sales.

I think back to my earlier life as a competitive athlete and then a high school varsity coach. I had players who aspired to play college ball. They worked hard and believed and did a lot of things right. But they dramatically underestimated the leap from being a great high school athlete to an NCAA division I athlete. It. Is. Massive.

So are the leaps from idea to iteration to “holy crap, we’re actually running a business.” There are always little cracks that quickly become chasms.

While I’m biased from my own history as an educator, I’m convinced that making information, mentorship, advisory, and coaching widely available is the way to avoid the pitfalls of false positives. I wrote about this on Medium last year, where I compared and contrasted the rules of the kids’ game, Candy Land, with the realities of the startup world. In both, success can sneak up on you, as can the chute downwards. Sometimes we think we’re stepping on to a ladder (or piece of ice) and then, yeah. 

For those who remember the TV series “Friends,” you’ll also remember Jon Favreau’s character, startup guru-ninja-rockstar Pete Becker. Pete invented software in his parents’ garage and became fabulously wealthy. Having, in his own words, “conquered the startup world,” he set his sites on “conquering the physical world,” by becoming a mixed-martial arts champion. Here’s how it went



It’s one thing when we take a false positive and miss a startup milestone, another thing entirely when we do so and enter a fighting cage with a gentleman named “The Destroyer of All of the Things.” We should be more careful about doing both.