Thursday, December 21, 2006

 

Thinking about the last Internet Revolution

I finished watching startup.com (I got a free copy through a source I've promised not to reveal), and it captures much of the flavor of that era.

I'll admit that the documentary has its flaws: it focuses too much on getting venture capital financing, on the relationship of two twenty-somethings at the top, and never reveals just why the company failed -- although there are hints, if you read between the frames. (I was amazed that they tried to offer services to local governments, yet failed to show they had any strong contacts in that area. Kaleil at one point spends more time being an Internet expert than paying attention to his company. And then there is the brief allusion -- you have to be alert to catch it -- that the website depended heavily on using Microsoft Windows; label me a UNIX bigot, but I consider running an enterprise application on Windows the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.) And yet this movie captures one essential feeling that comes with every failed startup: that had we paid just a little more attention, known just a little bit more, we could have made it work. I've had a couple of jobs in startups, down in the trenches, where the employees always felt that they were out of the loop, and wished that we could have been watching what the people at the top were doing. This documentary shows that even if we knew what our boses knew, we wouldn't be any better off. Unless knowing when to start looking for a new job is a good thing.

If you've been in one of these startups, you know this surprise and the need afterwards to cry, "But if I had paid more attention ..." Sheesh, if you are devoting every waking minute to a company, yet it still fails, doesn't that suggest that the original business plan was flawed to begin with? Given any number of bright and energetic people, you can make a business idea work for a little while, just as with enough thrust any pig can fly. Accepting that you failed doesn't mean you accept that most things aren't doable: it just means that you are learning, and that you won't make the same mistake twice.

Geoff

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