This is the first in a series of posts in which I’m going to share my journey building a tech company in Seattle. I’m excited (and a little nervous) to be very transparent and public about this journey.
I started my last venture (Bizible) in 2011 and learned a ton over an amazing 8 year journey. We were fortunate enough to sell Bizible in April 2018 with a very good outcome, and as a part of Marketo’s executive team when Marketo sold to Adobe six months later, fortune struck again. After an 8 year sprint running Bizible, back-to-back acquisitions, and the subsequent integrations, I decided to take a much needed break last year. A sabbatical.
My wife, two boys (1 and 4 years old), and I have been traveling around the world for the past year in the experience of a lifetime. It’s been amazing to be able to step back from the hustle of running a technology company and be able to spend so much time with my family. It’s given my wife and I a much different view on life. We’ve gone back and forth with the idea of extending this sabbatical into a more permanent way of life, realizing the amazing opportunity of being able to focus all our time on our family.
Ultimately, we’ve decided to take the startup plunge again. Because this decision means giving up the dream of being able to spend full time with the boys as they grow up, this venture will need to meet a very high bar: I have to be able to justify to my kids the decision to spend a large portion of time building this company rather than spending that time with them. Regardless of our decision, I’m still 100% committed to the hard work of being a great dad, but being able to forgo a work week and spend that time with my kids as they grow up is a huge opportunity cost to give up. It’s only worth it for a world-changing opportunity.
I’m in search of something that makes a huge impact that will justify the time away from my family. Building big companies takes time, so I’m committed to spending the rest of my career on this venture. In my 20 years in software, I’ve learned many lessons firsthand, most of which are probably best left for a follow-on post, but one lesson so eloquently stated by Marc Andressen and Andy Rachleff – “Markets matter most.” Picking the right market is necessary (although not sufficient) to building a highly successful company.
In the early stages of Bizible, we spent all of our time focused on Product Market Fit (PMF). We focused on markets we knew well (marketing technology, search, etc) since we would be able to get to PMF fastest in these markets. However, in hindsight it limited our search to a local maxima (within the markets we knew), rather than a global maxima (in all possible markets). This time around I’m spending a meaningful amount of time doing customer development and market research across a broad set of markets with the hopes of finding a market to focus on that has the biggest opportunity for impact and upside.
Big markets are defined by big changes in macro trends. Below is my working list of markets I think will have huge changes, and thus huge opportunity for a technology company:
- Space Entrepreneurship. Fast forward 30 years, I believe there will be a very big space economy and the market defining companies will be started around now. People will be working and living in space (not unlike The Expanse TV show). There will be a “space force” branch of armed forces for many governments. All of these changes will drive huge shifts in demand.
- Intelligent Enterprise Applications. Also described as “AI first” enterprise software. Given my background, this is the market I know the best. I believe “AI first” will disrupt today’s cloud applications the same way the cloud disrupted on-premise software. I believe Salesforce will not be the Salesforce of the AI era, just as Oracle and SAP were not Salesforce in the cloud era.
- Climate & Sustainability. There will be a huge shift in demand for climate solutions across consumer and business markets. Most companies will look to reduce and offset their carbon emissions through climate pledges (see recent Microsoft and Amazon announcements). Consumers will also shift behavior to lower their carbon footprint (eating less meat, buying carbon offsets, etc). Policy changes to support the Paris Agreement will reshape the legal landscape for agriculture, construction, energy, transportation, mining, and forestry industries in pretty much every country.
I look forward to sharing this journey with the GeekWire community. What other markets should I be looking at? Thirty years from now, what markets will have created the world’s largest companies? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @aaronbird.