Like It Or Not, Here’s How Your Startup Proves Evolution (Controversial)

It’s crazy to think a simple idea of starting a company can prove the controversial concept of evolution.  Yet, like it or not here’s how it does.

Before I go in depth on the idea of evolution in the business world, my disclaimer:

This may be controversial so let’s put aside our beliefs and perspectives on faith or religion and speak only on the concept of evolution, as in the Darwin perspective as we know it.  Ya know, natural selection and all associated phenomena.  I am not an expert on the subject and will not pretend to be here.  I only want to bring  upthe concept of evolution into the context of entrepreneurship and building successful companies.  

An interesting observation is how most world changing technologies or ideas actually start as thoughts and go through a transformation into ideas, onto sketches on napkins, to prototypes, to working models, and onto businesses.  Although almost too obvious to note, all things must start with a thought.  A spark of genius.  An idea.


That idea, brilliant or stupid, is just the beginning of a (un)predictable path towards life and eventual death.  If in the right place at the right time, and the right decisions are made to take advantage of opportunities, the idea will transform into something more visceral and experience an extended life.  If not, most likely the idea will die a quick death into obscurity.

This is why you hear “ideas are everywhere” and “execution is everything”.  I can just hear Darwin whisper similar words in the same vein.  In his context, execution would have referred to “the strong” or “genetically enhanced”.  Not to get sexual, but if a highly attractive and sexually active member of a species “executed” properly, they would have passed on their genes to influence the gene pool and the evolution of their species.

Your startup must mirror the same as the highly attractive and sexually active member to survive.  What do I mean?  You need to be attractive to customers, users, investors, media and potential employees to succeed.  If not, you will never be discovered and will eventually die.  Attractiveness can come in many forms but the most obvious one is your unique idea.  Does it make sense?  Is it something most people would be attracted to and want to use?  Does it elicit emotions of excitement or intrigue?  Is it unique enough to not be lost in the clutter of all the other same “species”.

Also required to be attractive is the core members of the founding team.  Is there expertise on the market subject?  Are there proven individuals who get results, or more referred to as JFDI?  Are they fun to be around?  Do they attract people to them or do they drive others away?  This is huge, since any successful startup finds ways to attract employees, investors, users and media attention.

That is why you hear investors say “we invest in people, not ideas.”

Your start up must aggressively mate as well.  Wha??  Yes, I said your company must be promiscuous and interact with other companies if it wants to be successful.  This is how you integrate within the larger framework of the ecosystem and spread your gene pool for future generations.  Facebook is the best example of this with their open graph and the like buttons found all over millions of websites.  Their tentacles are everywhere and indeed they have solidified their gene pool in our world for decades to come.  Do other companies find your startup attractive enough to mate?

How do I know all this and why the heck am I thinking about evolution and your startup having sex with another startup?

We once were the ugly duckling but quickly evolved into a better suited mammal geared to mate with the royalty of the land.  My company Seconds, was originally named Order SM and intended to be a mobile ordering startup for the food industry.  (All S & M jokes aside, the name was supposed to be meant for SMS ordering).   It became clear the name and the basic concept needed to evolve if we were going to continue.  Yet this was not our intention initially, it naturally happened as others started to interact on the platform and suggest use cases outside of our original plan.

Last fall we released out beta product and our initial customers provided enough feedback to realize we were onto something A LOT BIGGER than we originally planned.  We realized ordering was a form of communication – just one aspect of the iteration between merchant and customer.  Questions were another part of the relationship.  Requests and thank you follow ups from merchants were also a part of natural communications.  And the biggie – transactions – are at the very core of the relationship between customers and merchants.

It was at this point we decided to change the name and the fundamental value proposition.  Seconds – quick communications and mobile commerce.  Helping merchants and customers more easily interact and transact.  We are providing consumers a unique mobile commerce identity that will span the entire globe.  And we are giving merchants the ability to identify those most important to their business.

We realized the world was mutating right before our eyes, but one “species” was going to be left behind unless we did something about it.  More than 8 trillion text messages were sent around the world last year, yet none to local businesses or merchants.  It’s crazy to think we can text our friends and family with the widely popular communication medium, yet you or I cannot communicate via text with our favorite local coffee shop or the 5 star resort we intend to visit next week.  We are changing that, and  have quickly found ourselves in talks with everything from emerging startups to multinational, multibillion companies.

Just as Darwin found “one species does change into another” as he looked at Galápagos mockingbirds from different islands, startups must go through phases of transformation if they are to succeed.

The idea that your initial idea – in it’s most basic genetic form – will be required to mutate into a different species for survival has to be understood by founders and investors.  This is more generally called the Pivot, and Lean Startup proponents such as Eric Ries have graciously helped our community unearth one of the most powerful phenomenons to hit the business culture to date.

I think that is enough talk on companies having sex for today.


Innovate Around “Deadly Sins” And Other Golden Nuggets from StartupDay In Seattle

According to Wikipedia, the lean startup is defined as:

the method advocates the creation of rapid prototypes designed to test market assumptions, and uses customer feedback to evolve them much faster than via more traditional product development practices, such as the Waterfall model. It is not uncommon to see Lean Startups release new code to production multiple times a day[2], often using a practice known as Continuous Deployment[3].

According to Eric Ries, this might be satisfactory.  But he believes the Lean Startup is defined as:

An experiment.

I recently attended StartupDay in Seattle, where speakers touched on a variety of subjects to help early stage founders and would be entrepreneurs along their startup path.  As the keynote speaker, Reis explained how the process of building a startup is evolving from the waterfall ideology to a more agile and lean approach.

“Your goal is to determine if there is a cheaper way to test and validate your assumptions.”

Ries hammered home the idea that a startup really is just an experiment, where you are testing a set of assumptions as cheap as possible.  If proven wrong, you “pivot” towards a new set of assumptions and continue down the path of establishing a scalable and repeatable business model.

“The goal is to Reduce the time between pivots, increase odds and runway so your company can survive until you find a repeatable and scalable model.”

He also noted the new approach to The startup Way, focusing on four areas of the company.

  • people
  • culture
  • process
  • accountability

Among a number of new terms, Validated Learning jumps out at me as something to internalize.  It is a process on determining value and waste… Then optimize accordingly.  Find the value (what is working) and do more of it.  Find the waste (what is not) and put it aside, leave it behind.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  Well yes.  Yet it is funny how so many startups fail because they did not get to the point of repeatable value creation.  What Reis is saying is “get to this point as fast as you can”.  So measure everything.  Study it and validate your learning.

To sum it up, here are 3 things to focus on if you are a founder:

  • Establish the baseline MVP
  • Tune the engine
  • Pivot or persevere

Other notable speakers include:

Brian Wong
Kiip – As a young founder, Wong laid out six thoughts to help first time entrepreneurs on their journey.

1. Set the direction
2. Law of serendipity
3. You = motivator
4. Won’t have a clue
5. No time to spend
6. Crazy things

Rand Fishkin

SEOmoz – Rand spoke on the challenging topic of Failure, noting that it happens to all of us and how we approach it will determine our success.

  • Fail early
  • Have metrics
  • Fail survivably

Ask yourself the hard questions

  • do we have wrong assumptions?
  • do we have the wrong people?
  • odds we screw up again?
Glenn Kelmann
Redfin -Glenn had some great advice on how best to approach the initial stages of your product, everything from focusing on “problems in your life” to “deadly sins”.
  • Build off of others ideas
  • Delight the first user
  • Focus on Seven deadly sins