It may be easier than ever to build a new startup company. But it is still exceptionally hard to reach the upper altitudes of success.
That was the advice from Mitch Kapor, the New York-born entrepreneur and venture capitalist who addressed attendees as part of the closing session of Startup Weekend EDU last night in Seattle. Kapor, who founded Lotus Development in 1982 and became founding chairman of the Mozilla Foundation in 2003, spent a good chunk of his talk discussing his investment philosophy related to education.
But it was some of Kapor’s remarks about the current climate for startups which I found most interesting.
“This is a fantastic time, in my view, to do a startup,” said Kapor to applause from the crowd. “I’ve been at this almost 35 years now, and I can say that it is a wonderful time and the opportunities are larger than ever, in part because there are billions of these kinds of (smartphone) devices. We are really talking about a mass, mass, mass market.”
Building a new startup also is cheaper and easier today, with Kapor noting that there’s now a “whole apparatus” designed to help entrepreneurs who are just starting out.
But even though startups no longer have to spend millions to purchase servers or other equipment, the founder of Kapor Capital noted that it still remains extremely hard to build a company which creates a breakout product.
“Startups, in some sense, have gotten so easy to start, that we are confusing two things. And what we are confusing, often, is how far can you get in your first day of travel, with how long it is going to take to get up to the top of the mountain,” said Kapor, an early investor in Twilio, Uber, Get Satisfaction and bit.ly.
He continued with some great advice for folks thinking about doing a startup:
“It is clear that startups can get so much further on their first day than they used to be able to, so you might think: ‘Oh, well, how hard can it be to get up to the high altitudes of success?’ But, as you try to ascent to the higher altitudes, you need to raise more capital, build an organization, execute at a more complex level…. All of that can be done, but all of that involves messy things about people. And it is not a Moore’s Law sort of thing. That’s not necessarily faster or easier than it used to be. So, we are cautious at looking at things.
Not always that it is just so great that in your first three weeks you’ve got 50,000 people to download this or to use this new free service. Well, that’s remarkable. And that’s a great start, whatever it is…. And we appreciate that, but we also look carefully and think about whether the team is really equipped for high-altitude travel. Can they operate in low oxygen atmospheres for long periods of time? It is a separate kind of inquiry that has its own criteria.”
Here’s Kapor talking about the challenges of selling software to teachers and his thoughts on why startups — despite the lower costs and additional resources — are still really, really hard.
Kapor’s talk capped an action-packed Startup Weekend EDU, with mobile learning startup Text2Teach beating out 13 other teams to win the competition.
Here’s my earlier report on the opening keynote discussion between blogger Michael Arrington and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla: “Vinod Khosla on failure, thinking big and why the best entrepreneurs are under 25.”