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Tag Archives: Theory

Do Successful Startups Come in 3s (or more)?

8 Nov

When Cyota started more than12 years ago, it was developing a solution to provide online shoppers with a single use online credit card number, so that their primary card would never be revealed online.

It sounded like an extremely innovative idea at the time, particularly because e-commerce was not well developed yet, and shoppers were very concerned.

Shockingly – there were 3 different companies (1 out of Israel, 1 out of India, and 1 out of Ireland) who were developing the exact same solution at the exact same time.

Indeed it seems like good startups, like good ideas, come in threes, or even fours.

In today’s celebrity culture, where we hold up the start-up founder or patent registrant as superstar, visionary, and inventor extraordinaire, the concept might seem surprising.  But for those studying the history of innovation, simultaneous invention is now the norm.

As Stephen Johnson notes in Where Good Ideas Come From:

One of the most remarkable patterns in all of intellectual history [is] what scholars now call “the multiple:” A brilliant idea occurs to a scientist or inventor somewhere in the world, and he goes public with his remarkable finding, only to discover that three other minds had independently come up with the same idea in the past year.  Sunspots were simultaneously discovered in 1611 by four scientists living in four different countries… The law of conservation of energy was formulated separately four times in the late 1840’s. (34)

Given the Cyota experience, we looked through the history of Internet startups to see if a similar trend holds, and it indeed it seems it does.

Early Search Engines Altavista, Ask.com, Yahoo Search
Social Networking Friendster, MySpace, Facebook
Social Bookmarking Delicious, Digg, Reddit
Online Video Editing Jumpcut, EyeSpot, Cuts
Instant messaging Powwow, ICQ
Video Sharing YouTube, Metacafe, Daily Motion
Webmail Systems Hotmail, Yahoo mail, AOL mail
Video Advertising Tremor-media, AdapTV, Yume
Shopping Comparison Dealtime, My Simon, ShopSmart

Great startups, like classic inventions, represent the product of networked individuals collectively identifying real needs in the world and simultaneously deciding to address these needs.

So, startup founders and entrepreneurs, next time an investor asks you to do a market analysis, take a real look around for those competitors. If you find them, you should see it as a sign of your brilliance and a foreshadowing of good things to come.

But more importantly, the notion that startups come in 3s has profound implications for how we cultivate innovation in entrepreneurial communities and the amount of weight we put on the good idea relative to other indicators of startup success.

Why Digital Literacy? A bit of thought analysis…

2 Nov

As we’ve begun writing and advocating for greater investment in digital literacy we’ve challenged ourselves to step back and think, does digital literacy really matter?   Should all young people really be forced to take a programming class? Should teachers teach the basics of Internet architecture?

For some, the answer is a resonant yes.  But, it’s not obvious.

We don’t, for example, teach young people how to build houses or cars at school, though it’s clear that both physical architecture and the basics of combustion engines impact our every day lives.  We don’t even teach many young people the basics of the stock market, investing, or simple money management.

Why then is digital literacy different?  Is it different? Or is this just another case of tech-exceptionalism….

As we’ve explored the blogosphere it’s become clear that those who advocate for digital literacy are motivated by many different visions and world views. They also attack the challenge from different angles.

For many policymakers and professional training advocates, digital literacy is about empowering the next generation of workers and students with the skills needed to compete and add value in today’s market.

For Mozilla and other free speech advocates, this drive is about creating a “web-literate planet.” It’s about enabling anyone and everyone to understand what’s “under the hood” on the Net and empowering individuals to build upon, understand, and manipulate the “operating system” of our lives.

And for many start-up community advocates, digital literacy is seen as a basic pre-requisite for managing programmers and cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Yesterday, Fred Wilson, a New York VC who is starting to invest in education projects like Code Academy and Skillshare, wrote a post on the importance of basic coding skills. Therein he posted a striking quote from media theorist Douglas Rushkoff.

Of everything I’ve read, Rushkoff provides one of the more eloquent and compelling justifications for investing in digital literacy:

When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed.

We’ll be refining our own views and justifications over the coming months, but for those fighting the good fight on digital literacy today, hopefully these thinkers both inspire and put a few more arguments in your arsenal.