Recently a developer based here in NY announced that he had started a company to develop something like stuff that I'm openly working on. The first I heard about it was the announcement. I threw my hands up in the air, figuratively, in frustration. Why is this the first I'm hearing about it?
At that point I decided it was time to write a piece about this. There's a rule in here, and it's worth trying to formulate it.
A story. When I was working on my first outliner, in the late 70s, out of my living room in Madison, I had the idea that I was doing something that had never been done before. Then one day I got a call from a friend who said I had to read this book by Ted Nelson. In that book I found that the idea I was exploring had been tried. Of course I was disappointed, but I read the book, greedily, anyway. Here was a chance to see how others were thinking about structural writing. Writing where the organization is as malleable as the words.
So when it was time to introduce it to the world, I did it in a room at the Brooks Hall in San Francisco in a demo to the author of the book, Ted Nelson. I wanted him to be the first to see it, and wanted to know what he thought.
This is the principle. Give the originator of the idea a shot at it. Maybe you can work together instead of working at odds. That's the key point. Both of you have been thinking and doing in the same area. Maybe your work can benefit from all that thinking and doing?
Another story. I don't think any reasonable person would question that I played a similar role to RSS that Ted Nelson played to the web. I think I earned the courtesy of being shown a product that aimed to commercialize RSS. And maybe more than a courtesy, maybe I had ideas that the people hadn't thought of? Maybe there was a vision for the company that could have had them grow to be worth more than the $100 million they eventually sold out for. I actually had those kinds of ideas. And what would it cost to find out?
That's the principle. The first I heard about Feedburner was their press release. I had been talking on and off with all their investors about RSS. So it's not as if they didn't know me, they did. I don't know what causes people to not reach out. Shyness? Fear? Well, if you're shy you shouldn't start a company. Be a dentist or a programmer. Fear of what? You just raised all this money. You're going to be huge. The founder is just a person. What could he do to hurt you or slow you down? If you're driven by fear, again, you shouldn't be an entrepreneur. Try farming or running a drug store perhaps.
I don't yet have a concise formulation for this rule, so here's the long form. You should welcome opportunties to talk with people who you feel are competitors. There's always something to say to them. And you should have an offer for them, or be open to offers. You can't have the same conversation after your product is announced, so have one before. And dilution isn't a bad thing, if more value gets created from a combination. You should always be willing to do a deal that gets you 1000 percent more growth. The possibilities for leverage at the beginning of a venture are the greatest they'll ever be for your startup.
I had a very smart teacher at the beginning of my career. I was getting sales training at the company I worked for. I wasn't a sales person, but hat's off to my employer, who felt that every employee should know how to sell. It's a good investment, no matter who you're talking about.
My teacher told me to be a sponge for information. There shouldn't be one fact that's germane to your business that's public that you don't have. Read and talk and listen, he said. Always be listening. I assume he said this because people almost never listen. But if you want to be a CEO you have to be great at listening.