Categories for Culture

Art vs Product: The creativity motivation spectrum

Left, Zuerst die Füsse, a work of art. Center, Apple's iPhone 4, a artful product. Right, Monavie, an Acai juice MLM scheme.

Right now I’m in a weird state of my career development. I’m not riding a rocket of momentum as I have in past ventures, but instead am finding myself evaluating opportunities and work with a more measured approach. I’ve got an idea of what I’d like to do for my next startup, specifically dealing with video production, but I don’t think the ecosystem is ready. That means I’m taking some time to be an artist, rather than a producer.

Artist and Producer are two terms I’ve thought of in my head to describe a spectrum of motivation. Artists create because they have to— meaning they have some idea in their soul which they have to get out and show the world. Producers (product people), on the other hand, create something they think the world wants to have right now.

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Hopelessly perfect: Why it’s smart to work at a no-shot startup

Think about the promise of the Valley. Rampant hiring. Early-stage capital freely flowing to countless companies. Catered lunches and dinners. Worthy engineers treated like royalty (or worse, ninja / pirate / rockstars).

While some companies do fit the Valley pipe-dream, we think there are many more startups who don’t have a shot at VCs, the top engineers in the world, or an ice cube’s chance in Hell at realizing those paper stock options. And guess what: We think it’s still a smart idea to work with them. We call them the no-shot startup, and it can be an invaluable experience, just as long as you know what to expect and when to quit.

Hopeful startups

The startup lifestyle happened a bit backward for me. I accidentally worked for a successful and notable startup first, then started loving the startup lifestyle a few years later.

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Love of the Game: Be foolish enough to believe your startup will make it.

A close friend of mine has been struggling with his startup for the past 2 years. He’s dropped out of school to work on it full time and is still working hard on gaining traction. He has recently moved back to his parents house so he could keep his expenses low and not have to take any funding. His diet primarily consists of Ramen Noodles and whatever fruit is on sale. His income is under $15k a year.

His lifestyle isn’t this way because he lacks options. He’s turned down Angel funding on 4 separate occasions. Within the past week he’s turned down two different jobs (which would have require him to quit his startup) where both companies were offering six figure salaries. Many of his friends called him foolish.

He isn’t looking at the startup world with rose-colored glasses. He knows that entrepreneurship is a bipolar existence. You can embrace his idea or dismiss it, but you can’t ever shake his faith that his startup will make it. Job security, comfort, and money paled in comparison to the thought of him building a startup.

As I’ve talked to more entrepreneurs about my friends experience, I’ve discovered his story isn’t unique. Many entrepreneurs are driven by an intrinsic belief that what they’re working on truly matters. Despite all the odds stacked against them, they believe their startup will succeed.

This sort of lifestyle can only come from a love of the game and belief in your startup. I absolutely love this about the startup community. Just remember, you’re not entitled to anything. Hustle for everything you’re worth.

Be foolish enough to believe you’ll make it.

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Ask TSF Readers – What happened to “real world” startups?

You know, the startups that actually have tangible products such as Zappos, Amazon, Redbox or Groupon.  If you can explain it to your grandmother, then most likely it has a real world aspect to it that normal people can relate to. If you’re debating a freemium model vs. Paid model then most likely you don’t have a physical product / service to sell.

As Startup Foundry grows we get more and more startups asking for us to cover them, and 99% of them don’t involve any “real life” aspects to them.  Why is that?  I have a few explanations why they don’t exist.

  1. Pure software startups have almost zero barrier to entry if the founders are developers
  2. Developers are so immersed into their digital lives, they forget about problems that can be solved in the real world.
  3. The people who have the ideas for real world startups, are not entrepreneurs, thus the idea never gets executed.
  4. There are actually plenty of real world startups, but I don’t hear about them because I’m also so immersed in my digital life.

Reason #1: Pure software startups have almost zero barrier to entry if the founders are developers

Or as I like to day: The path of least resistance.  A digital site that doesn’t involve physical things means that a developer can essentially develop and market a product without ever having to go outside of their house.  Chat Roulette being a prime example of this.  The founder of Chat Roulette didn’t have to go outside of his house and market his product to retail stores, companies or anything of that sort.  He just built it, and the initial (albeit short term) success was great.

All a developer needs is a computer and an internet connection.  Most of the popular developer frameworks are free and open source. It’s a no brainer.  However, this leads to a billion websites that all try to accomplish the same thing and there really is no innovation involved.  I don’t want another website that allows me to filter and display my online content in an easier way.  I’m absolutely dying for someone to come up with another article recommendation engine or a better way to determine my online clout.

The path to least resistance is also amplified because there are no hardware costs associated with it besides server costs (A server you will most likely never ever see).

Reason #2: Developers are so immersed in their digital lives, they forget about problems that can be solved in the real world.

This is another big reason why I think why we are too busy solving online problems instead of real world problems.  Developers are doing what they do best: Developing.  This involves a computer and an internet connection and also means most of their lives are spent are in front of their computer.  Ideas evolve from frustration you experience, and developers frustrations are mostly online because this is where they are most of the time.

If you combined the “path of least resistance” along with frustration you experience online, you end up with a digital product that solves a digital need – not a real world need.

Reason #3:  The people who have the ideas for real world startups, are not entrepreneurs, thus the idea never gets executed.

I’m sure there are plenty of mothers out there that experience a lot of frustrations in their lives with the products they use.  A baby monitor that doesn’t work, a crib that is too hard to put together, etc.  But, they are too busy to implement these ideas, or have the slightest clue where to start.  For this case in particular, i’m sure the major brands are all over it anyway.

But, as I type this, reason #4 seems like possibly the best answer to this post.

Reason #4: There are plenty of real world startups, but I don’t hear about them because I’m also so immersed in my digital life.

This can quite possibly be the answer.  Maybe it’s because I’m like everyone else, and I spend most of my time in front of a computer.  As sad as that sounds, it’s true.  The places I “hang out” are mostly online.  I hear the frustration of signal vs noise on twitter, but I never hear something like “I wish there was a better way to hang my keys”.  I’m so immersed in my online life, this is seriously the best real world problem I can come up with.  And it’s not even a problem!

In my example in reason #3, it is quite possible that sine I don’t have kids I have no idea what the newest and greatest products are and most importantly who are making these products.   Are there startups focusing on making baby products, I have no idea.

This is where I need the readers help – Where are all these real world startups.  Do they exist & if so where do I find them?

Silicon Valley is Hollywood for Startups

I watched Social Network for the second time today, and it got me thinking. Entrepreneurs are no different than struggling actors. The end goal for an actor or entrepreneur is not to land a high paying job at some respected company, but to become rich and famous. If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to create something new and exciting that hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of people will use. If you are an actor, your goal is to get on TV or the big screen and be seen by millions of people.

We’re all working towards the same goal and yet everyone has a different approach. However, We all can agree on one point: You have a higher probability of succeeding if you surround yourself with the smartest people in your industry. The more connections you have, the better chance you have of getting found. Silicon Valley and Hollywood have a large concentration of industry talent all in one small area, and this is why they are arguably the most importent and influential areas in the world. Yes, the world.

What other place can you get a more dramatic scene when you finally tell your parents: “Mom, Dad: I’ve decided to quit school & work, and move to hollywood to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an actor”. Change Hollywood with “Chicago, New York, London, Tokyo, Paris” and it just doesn’t have the same effect. No matter how much you love your city, it’s just not as influential as Silicon Valley or Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, other cities ARE important too and you can become rich and famous by starting a company outside of silicon valley such as Boston, Chicago or New York, and there have been plenty instances of actors outside of Hollywood that have gone on to become rich and famous. But that’s not my point. There are no other areas in the world that are more influential and important than Silicon Valley or Hollywood. Period.

Silicon Valley is home to the most brilliant entrepreneurs and technology companies who have impacted people’s lives around the world. Google, Facebook & Apple are a rock throw from each other. Where else in the world can you say three companies of that magnitude are located so close to each other? Better yet, imagine if they all disappeared right now. Wouldn’t things be a whole lot worse?

Hollywood is home to some of the most influential actors, agents, producers and studios along with movies & music that are watched and heard around the world. They control America’s media, and arguably have a huge impact on international media as well. Media is important and goes hand in hand with technology. If president Obama shut off our internet AND TV, you can guarantee there will be mass riots.

Speaking of riots, technology & media were part of the reason people in Egypt were able to organize protests efficiently and succeed in their mission to overthrow Mubarak. It wasn’t the people of Silicon Valley or Hollywood that were part of this, but you can’t look past their role as an enabler, and you can’t look past the importance of these two areas and their impact across the world.

I would love to be proven wrong on this issue. If you think there is a more important region, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Side note: I am a fairly well travelled individual who has been to most of the major international cities except East Asia. I also live in Chicago. Go Figure.

You can follow the author, Robbie Abed on twitter @robbieab and The Startup Foundry on twitter @startupfoundry.