In Rebtel, Jajag and others should know what they are up against, Russell Shaw writes that “startups who are so wrapped up in their own special offerings should not underestimate the forces they are going up against”.Â Russell is riffing off Andy’s Being on the InsideÂ where Andy’s basic point is that the incumbents can make life difficult, or even shut down startups easily enough.
Frankly, you guys are great armchair quarterbacks.
I want to amplify a little bit of what Jeff Pulver just wrote in his remake of Parents Just Don’t Understand.Â In the world of a startup each day is a fight for survival.Â Each day you wonder whether or not:
- The offshore subcontractor you’ve got working for you is going to deliver when he says he will, because you’ve made a big commitment to an important customer.
- The employees you’ve worked so hard to recruit are still going to think that what they’re doing is meaningful when a recruiter from a larger firm comes along offering more money.
- You can make payroll in another quarter without more investment.
You do crazy things like buying used servers from EBay, without warranties, because it’s 80% cheaper than buying the new ones.Â You build your own desks.Â You drive 8 hours to a trade show because it’s cheaper than flying, and besides, that gives you some good talk time with the other folks in the company.Â You make promises to customers who believe in you without knowing quite whether you can deliver on those or not.Â And then you go figure out how to deliver.
You work every night until you fall asleep in your chair in front of the computer.Â In fact, we justÂ had a light hearted discussion yesterday about head snappers (the folks who lean back, and then lurch forward when they wake suddenly)Â versus face planters (those who sleep with their faces on the keys).Â The next day you get up and do it all over again.
Worrying about whether a slow moving giant is going to cut off your air is the last thing on your mind.Â My fondest hope is that we’re so successful that we can poke one of these guysÂ hard enoughÂ in the eye that they want to buy us.Â I’m sure that’s the way that RebTel and Jajah are thinking about their businesses too. Get out there, be visible, create a ruckus,Â buildÂ some momentum.Â Build your successes day by day, and customer by customer.
Startups are about making choices, and then living with them, and that’s really different from a big company.Â When I worked for Microsoft we debated the merits of cable versus DSL, andÂ tried toÂ predictÂ who would win.Â Â In the end, we participated in the GTE DSL trial and bought a piece of a cable company.Â Â As the CEO of iotum, that’s not a luxury I can afford.Â We have to validate our hypotheses one at a time, not all at once. An example:Â a couple of weeks ago an old acquaintance asked why we had chosen to focus on building a hosted service instead of an enterprise play.Â My answer?Â We had to make a choice.Â We couldn’t be both.Â By being focused though, we can speed ahead of a player trying to execute both plays.
That’s the reality of a startup, Russell.Â I just don’t care what these guys are going to do.Â Â They’re not going to get around to whatÂ iotum isÂ doingÂ until long after we’ve already succeededÂ (or failed).Â
And you know what?Â Hjalmar Winbladh and Roman Scharf have both built successful startups before.Â I’m pretty certain that’s the way that they’re thinking too.