Tl;dr: They are smarter than you and I
You are assuming that being technical is linked to business proficiency and startup competency, as well as the ability to LEARN. And that what you learn as a ‘business person’ is actually useful. Hm.
Not all learnings are created equal, neither are environments.
Great ideas come from either a:
- Technical insight, or
- Behavioral insight
I’d prefer the former (ideally both, tbh) as normal people can’t do that, but some can see the latter.
Over the past 10 years, this whole startup thing has become clear in a way that’s not really egalitarian. Tim nice but dim is screwed. Everyone is just too polite to tell him and in startup land there is a belief that everyone has a shot. Em… no.
I’ve been writing a load of ‘how to’ guides for pitching the past week on my blog and in one I have a story about USV passing on Airbnb. Fred Wilson writes something like he keeps a box of Obama Os in the conference room as a reminder to back exceptional founders no matter what they do.
The exceptional thing is critical.
If you asked me the one thing you should do as an Angel to invest, I would say ‘fund the people that make you feel small and pointless in a way no one else you meet does and just sit back.’ That’s it. Just keep waiting though and be patient as it won’t happen much.
Really smart people are different. They pick things up in a way that’s not normal.
Billion $ companies are black swans. Normal people get normal outcomes.
How many billionaires can you say are just lucky dumb dumbs? Yeah, none. As JW Bush said ‘If you are so smart, how come you ain’t so rich?’
‘Tech-savvy’ is close to the swimmer’s body illusion. Are people tech savvy because they are smart or because they are weird nerds who can’t do business good? One would assume a lack of acumen.
In M&A (which used to be hot) it doesn’t matter what course you did. Don’t care. Only care about your pedigree- grades and the like. You can learn everything if you cut muster. The reality is undergrad is totally pointless (I studied business thinking I would learn something, ummm nope). Banks will take you if you study something as pointless as classics or geography… if you are really smart.
Smart people are smart. Then there is special.
Not to be a twat, but I don’t get accused of being dumb. It’s really relative. I meet maybe one really gifted cookie a year (maybe less) and they’re just different. You need to know enough to appreciate how different they are and how insignificant you are.
There is this one kid in the US, he decided he was going to learn marketing and the things he does after a year just boggle my mind. I asked him how the hell he learned all this and he said ‘eh, I just started reading a year ago.’ I have another friend that is a ‘growth hacker’ of sorts who is not dumb (he gets paid a lot), and when I tell him the things this guy does it’s like ‘WTF, I tried to do that and I could never figure it out.’
Finally, if you are in a fast moving environment, you learn way faster. You get a fast-moving environment with funding. When I quit M&A, I bootstrapped a load of startups and my learning cycle was balls. Total waste of time. Then I joined a funded company and set up a country and scaled it from a hotel room to 250 people in 3 months. I was no less capable, but the amount I learned in months was more than years because I had money to burn. You will be shocked by how much you can learn when you have the opportunity to learn.
My point is this. ‘Tech-savvy’ stuff is intellectually interesting. Formal education is bullshit. You learn by doing. If you get the timing right, pick a big market, a great problem with the right solution… you get a shit load of funding and you learn fast when you have resources. And if you are special…. you build a billion $ company in a way normal people don’t and just can’t. But you don’t get a crap tonne of funding if you do the wrong things to start with.
The WTF smart people who graduate from college at 16 I know always do WTF things like raising $40m in their first year. They attract amazing people who want to partner with them from the start. Normal people don’t. A hire A, B start a bozo explosion.
Final note, I constantly deal with sole founders about cofounders. There are so many sole founders. I tell them the people they need to find are in their network already. If you have a crappy network you get crappy cofounders and crappy startups. In effect, your startup success is a partial function of who you have been exposed to.
You can change your stars, but you need to think in terms of years not months and make a commitment most won’t make.