I’m willing to come clean. I’m a little selfish. When I hear something I think is interesting and smart it sticks in my head. Stays there until I can find a way to use it for my clients and myself. Here is one example.
A year and a half ago I heard Steven Jurvetson speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in SF. He was asked about his theory of venture investing. His answer was basically “I look for things that will be obvious in 200+ years and then invest in the companies and technologies that will get us there”. It stuck with me because it’s a simple but ambitious approach. It relies on taking a long-term vision, potentially needing to mobilize substantial resources and (from the investor’s standpoint) taking a portfolio approach as many (most?) of these investments won’t return. I admire the ambition of this approach and the scope of it’s thinking. Additionally, like a lot of great ideas - it’s simple.
So what can we learn from it as entrepreneurs? What can we take from it to make better decisions in our lives and businesses?
First, let’s deal with some reality. Namely, we’re not all in the position to take moonshots. I have a family to provide for and I’m not in a position to make such an incredible bet on the future (god knows I wish I was!). I’m looking for something that can work at a scale more realistic to my position. So let’s take his approach and see what we can make of it.
We will start with two scales.
- Timeline of impact
- Scope of impact
Timeline of impact
At the start, we were looking at 200 years. I really don’t expect to live that long (you can blame living in London during the height on the club scene). Let’s adjust our impact time to 10 or 15 years. That likely takes long-distance commercial exploitation of space off the table - but if the last 15 years have told us anything (Facebook was founded in 2004) there is a lot left on the table.
For my purposes, I like 15 years. I’ve read a lot of research about the life of startup projects. Much of it suggests that it takes around 4 years to get the idea turned into a ‘real’ business, and 7+ to really start delivering on your vision. If those numbers are even close to right, it’s good news for 15. We’ve got more than double that time to create the big impact we’re looking for.
Additionally, a 15-year timeframe gives us a lot more potential to gather data which might be helpful in testing our idea. However, before we start asking questions about the future we want to create, let’s think a bit about who we want to create them for...
Scope of impact
So our original theory had what I would describe as a broad scope of impact. It’s not referenced in the quote above - but he also implies an incredibly wide scope of impact (essential society as a whole). That makes sense for an ambitious venture capital investment - you need the scale to achieve a worthwhile return.
We’re also looking for a return on our effort. However, we might be able to make things run a bit smoother by limiting ourselves. Afternoon, when you build a product or business you have to build it for one specific audience.
So as you are thinking about the way you’ll change the world in 15 years, not let’s think about who we’ll change it for. Be as specific as possible.
Putting it back together
So now we have a more measurable timescale and a specific audience. This is helpful as you can draw real research and real data on these people. Suddenly we go from something that I admire to something I can work with!
I see a lot written about how to study and validate ideas for companies. However, way less is produced about how to come up with business and project ideas. Let me know if this helps you! If you want to share your 15-year change and audience in the comments, I’ll be reading and giving my feedback.