Startup Upstart: Your Socks Are Unimpressive

Seriously, Silicon Valley: Enough with the socks. We've learned as much as we can about technology from sneak peeks at each other's ankles. Now it's time to reveal a little more. 

On the pages of the New York Times, Silicon Valley seems prepared to bare it all: our open-source code, our game obsessions, our favorite red robot socks. You know, wacky Californians with wacky ideas. Like the web. Or smartphones.

Who would have thought the New York Times would be so gullible? I've seen the socks of Silicon Valley, and on a good day, they match. That said, I do know wily startup founders who would parade QR code tattoos around Folsom Street Fair (NB: NSFW) if it would get their new video game app a NYT link gratis.

Yet when it comes to their bottom line, most startup execs play coy. That code of silence stops here, in this column. Fair warning: the comments section might get loud.

No one gets to claim secrecy for competitive reasons. Any launch strategy that can't withstand daylight certainly can't survive a changing business climate. Yet many pre-launch tech companies maintain vows of secrecy straight out of the dotcom era, when excitable engineers would pinky-swear friends to verbal NDAs in South Park before whispering: "Shhhh, pet food. Online."

I mock from experience: at the time, I worked for a company selling large-scale sculpture. Online. It met the same fate as Pets.com.

Since then, I've learned. Your socks may be dazzling, your sculpture sublime, and your puppetry mesmerizing to drunk Superbowl viewers, but show me some numbers. Today I'll only consult for startups with robust business plans capable of turning a unifying passion – photography books, say – into a $30 million business within two years.

Stealth mode may serve as a shield against the criticism of our peers, but playing it safe rarely sustains returns in Silicon Valley. Who are we kidding? Unfamiliar technologies and untested markets call for unconventional business strategies. Investors know that. They've seen our socks, and still they're not scared. But we need to be prepared to answer their questions, in all honesty.

So here's where we start telling the truth. And by we, I mean me, and you, and Memoir Tree - my current pre-launch client with a free oral history app still in beta, and an enlightened CEO who knows the key to success in the app market is being adaptive, not secretive. Every week I'll deliberately attempt a tactic that upends conventional business wisdom and report the results candidly, right here.

It may not always be pretty, but in startups, making mistakes is part of the development process. Sometimes we have to wrestle with our own hubris: no one likes to be proved wrong. But being the first to recognize your own mistake earns you the most respect, or the next-best thing in technology - the least humiliation.

I do have my pride, which is why I'm not telling you where I take my beginning salsa class. Otherwise, tell me which business-school adage you'd like to see me put to the startup test next. In this early-beta business world we inhabit, someone's got to be the beta tester.

Author Alison Bing is a content maven, startup strategy consultant and writer. This is first in a series. Find her on THE FIVE or follow her on Twitter at your own risk.

blog comments powered by Disqus

The Featured Five