Running in Circles

There is one thing all startups to. Follow other startups. Blame Google and Facebook for this, because the way these companies grew, they

 · 3 min read

There is one thing all startups to. Follow other startups. Blame Google and Facebook for this, because the way these companies grew, they have given everyone a get-rich-and-famous-quick hope. "Yaar, tu ek solid app kyun nahi banata? (Why don't you make a block-buster app?)", my school friend (who is now a "businessman" and hence has a right to advice me) tells me. I know internally he is worried about why am I such a slouch while everyone is already making it big. Though I wonder who the "everyone" is.

To be totally honest, I was swayed by the Google-Facebook exponential growth illusion too.

It crept up on me sub-consciously and I started fearing that I will miss the next-big-thing. I know, we are not even starting to talk about ability and we are talking about the next-big-thing. A classic wannabe. Not all of it was bad though. I learnt, and am still learning a lot of things. On many nights, I found myself visiting startup blogs and forums [1], looking for the tiny bit of market information, or the latest CSS meme that will give me an edge.

I also followed my direct competitors. I envied the kind of attention and community they got. "Open Source" in India has roughly the same connotation as the word "beggar", or if I am in a more generous mood, "gypsy".

So what did I gain from this?

Some of it was good startup theory that I should have known. Steve Blank, Eric Reis, 37Signals others are great at dispensing this [2]. I have gained a lot of insight and inspiration, put my mistakes in perspective, identified my focus and aligned my strategy.

But most of the writing about startups is about catching next-big-thing. Its a lot about empty bravado by the founders, with a nice helping of straight lies about traction and growth. Fake it, if you can't make it, is not too far from the truth.

If you don't walk away a bit, its easy to forget that great organizations are built on excellence. The kind that takes a lot of experience, patience and dedication to build. "what-everyone-else-is-doing" (a.k.a. social media) is often a distraction that takes you away from excellence.

People also forget that Facebook came out of Harvard and Google out of Stanford. Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, Outliers, that super-achievers are more likely a product of their demographics along with ability. (Ability is necessary but not sufficient). Stanford and Harvard are at the bleeding edge of innovation and their success is not easy to replicate.

Startups reading about other startups is often like children running after each other in circles. Sometimes though, its fun.

[1] The mainstream media is mostly clueless about startups. They print any PR crap that gets them a free lunch/dinner. It is shockingly bad. I have stopped reading the company news section of any news / business paper. Mainstream media writes about startups when there is heightened funding activity or an IPO round the corner. For example, ecommerce is (or was?) the flavour of the month in India and Facebook is the flavour of the month in the west. But not strictly, free lunches are always welcome.

[2] I think Peter Thiel's startup class is pseudo science. He is a smart VC at the right time and right place, but not a great theorist.


Rushabh Mehta

Rushabh is a software developer and founder of ERPNext. He usually writes about the startup experience, open source and the technologies he is working on.

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