Fred Wilson asks if web and mobile apps are like TV shows.
When I saw the headline I thought it was about something else. There was a time when VCs thought websites would be like TV networks. From which they extrapolated there wouldn't be very many. They applied all the rules of TV to the web to come up with their investment strategies. Of course it didn't work, and eventually the web became its own thing. But it still suffers from people trying to force it into typecasts of the past. It's natural, and understandable. And I do it too!
Very much about individual creations. When the individuals who created the band leave, or die, usually the band goes with it. There are exceptions. The Rolling Stones had their founder, Brian Jones, die, and the band is still recording and touring 43 years later.
When Jerry died, so did the Grateful Dead. The Beatles broke up after a few years because only one or two members of the band liked the band. They come and go. The music continues though. The influence continues too.
I spent the first years of my life as a programmer figuring out what my schtick was. Did I play guitar, piano, drums or bass? Was I into folk rock (James Taylor, Carole King), acid rock (Hendrix, Cream), or poetic rock (like Patti Smith or the Talking Heads). Maybe a novelty act like Alice Cooper. (Obviously my choice of bands dates me.)
Then over the years I repeated a loop. Getting better and better at what I did. Like Harry Nilsson or John Lennon, I tried out other genres, but at the core I'm still a publishing guy. I write tools for writers to publish stuff. I've dabbled in other stuff, but my core is in writing and publishing.
I don't. And never have, even though I had to become one in order to get my software into the world.
And I can't imagine that many of the people Fred funds are really CEOs either. Dennis Crowley and David Karp are gifted product dudes, but my guess is they don't know much or care about the stuff that Fred writes about in his MBA Monday columns. You can learn that stuff works, I did -- I had to. But I was miscast as a CEO. I'm a wacky creative idea and implementation guy. I make products. I learned how to manage. In a way I'm an anti-CEO. Just ask the CEO's who have employed me. I make good and big products, but I don't fit in well in corporate hierarchies. I tend to say what I think, I have to because in my world you can't lie your way to a successful product. Our work is very demanding, you have to have a high tolerance for ideas that shatter your comfort. Because programs crash and lose data, and that's not something to joke about or talk about in a political way. You have to be brutallly truthful or it doesn't even boot up.
So, I think Fred is onto something. Maybe we shouldn't structure development around the corporate model. Maybe we should find a structure that insulates creative people from corporate reality, and find other people who love to hack corporations. Like the guy who runs Evernote who says he wants to build a 100-year company. I never would come up with that idea. The idea of a 100-year corporation is so devoid of life to me, it sucks out all my energy just thinking about it. But I wouldn't necessarily mind working with that guy if he could find users for my products.
We tried to do something like this at two companies I was part of: 1. Visicorp and 2. Symantec. Both failed at creating a safe environment for creative people. In the end both were run by administrators and VCs, and not for the products. Though both said they were doing the opposite. They were both good tries. And the incubators of today are in the right ballpark. But if they were really doing the right job they'd be looking to draw people like me in, and believe me, none of them are. I think they're still looking for docile no-problem programmers. And that will get you variants on the hits of yesteryear, the equivalent of Muzak for software. If you want to start a new genre, expect it to be jarring, upsetting, and more than a little exciting. And expect not to understand it at first. The understanding creeps up on you.