The Myth of the 45-Day Startup
The best startup conversations don’t take place in conference rooms or boardrooms, they happen in backs of bars over beers, and they usually start with what-ifs.
This is exactly how ExitEvent happened. At a VIP dinner for a startup event years ago, everyone at the table was lamenting the fact that the only time we were getting out was at startup events.
I then joked that I wanted to start my own event that was just the drinking at the end part, minus all of the content at the beginning part. I’d bring on a craft brewer, give it a wacky name, and not have to worry about my social calendar anymore.
Someone said that was actually a good idea. It snowballed.
The same phenomenon happened again a few weeks ago, when another entrepreneur and I were enjoying free beer at the ShoeBoxed and Adzerk sponsored Paradoxos event at Fullsteam.
This time, the lament was over the long haul, both of us really grateful that our startups were still going strong after all this time, but taking a mental/emotional breather from how busy the last few months had been for each of us.
“Next time,” I joked, “I’m going to build something from the exit backwards.” I paused. “A 45-day startup.”
“Oh my God, I’ve thought about that too,” he laughed.
“Just to see if it could be done,” I added.
Half Joking? Or Half Just Blew Your Mind
Of course, it was a joke, much like ExitEvent was a joke. And my ego isn’t big enough (yet) to think that every word that comes out of my mouth has merit. I’m the kind of person that will repeatedly put words together that are stupid, then think about it, then rearrange the words until they won’t get me arrested.
This is also kind of what I do for a living, like most entrepreneurs, I think about things that don’t make a hell of a lot of sense until I’ve thought about them so hard that something useful comes together. Those nuggets are the seeds of entrepreneurism.
Think about the flying car.
Stay with me.
We’ve been thinking about the flying car for ages. Cars still don’t fly. We still ask: “It’s 2013. Where the hell is my flying car?”
But five years ago, we were still asking: “It’s 2008. Where the hell is my videophone?”
So this joke about the 45-day startup stuck in my mind until I turned it into a sort of economics premise. With all that we know about entrepreneurism, business, and how it all works, why isn’t there a shorter, smarter path to building a successful startup? I mean, technically, the process hasn’t really changed all that much in decades. Sure, some of the rules and tools and roadmaps have evolved, but it’s still:
1) Build something people want.
2) Make them aware of it.
3) Sell to Yahoo.
I’m kidding of course. You can also sell to Google.
This is more a philosophical question about entrepreneurism and sacred cows.
Is entrepreneurism like the music business? Beyond the one-hit wonders, artists succeed, grow, and succeed again. Sure, fame carries some weight from one record to the next, but certainly, from the Beatles forward, plenty of artists got better as they got more successful, and that increase in talent, knowing the market, knowing the game, etc. leant to their continued success.
Investors love repeat founders.
So are startups art?
Anyway, I found out quickly that no one really agrees with me and my econo-startup theory. Certainly, trying to pull off a 45-day startup here in the Triangle would be much more difficult than, well, than a lot of places. We don’t have the capital, so we certainly don’t have the wild-eyed crazy capital it would take to move that fast, and we don’t have the soft landings, the acquirers, that could create a small-to-middling exit on some promising technology.
So yeah, I know it’d be next to impossible, but is it possible?
The world is getting smaller. Location, while still a huge factor, is at least declining in importance (and not increasing). There is Skype, there are alternatives to VC and even angel funding to get to the relatively new concept of minimum viable product, which then has robust web and mobile distribution systems to be sold through, and turnkey payment systems with which to collect revenue.
There are freelancers, outsources, and just about any task can be crowdsourced to a cheap labor force. There are startup weekends and hackathons and the sharing economy – Surely there are common elements among all these by which one could eventually MacGyver a SnapChat out of some string and a paper clip.
So Why Isn’t It Any Easier?
And here’s where you get to the slippery slope that inevitably ends in something like the dot-com crash.
Again, my interest in this is purely academic. The concept of a 45-day startup shouldn’t be coming from me, it should be coming from some idealistic 20-something who hasn’t had their first life beatdown yet.
But at the same time there is something there. I know it. And I think it’s in the education part. It would be awesome to set up a lab, experiment, and collect and analyze the data, but a lot of that data exists in stealth mode or in the still-hushed-whispers of failure.
At the same time, I think exploring the concept is necessary. After all, what are we selling as entrepreneurial education – is it work hard, stay lean, and get lucky? Is it still the mechanics of the business plan? Or should we be discovering and passing on faster, better, smarter ways of getting from idea to exit, all the while creating happy customers?
Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at http://joeprocopio.com