Defrag Blog

Memo to startups: waiting for that moment

by Eric Norlin on Sep.18, 2009, under Uncategorized

Do you ever just wake up with some unidentifiable frustration? It’s not a specific thing, but more of a “something’s itching at me and I just can’t put my finger on it.” That’s how I woke up this morning. So, after kicking the dogs and swearing at my computer for a bit (i’m kidding!), I settled down to read the news –which means hit my list of usual sites and read TechMeme.

And that’s where I found Sarah Lacy’s wonderful “Memo to Start-ups: You’re Supposed to Be Changing the World, Remember?” (go read, i’ll wait.)

Sarah’s speaking directly about the startups at TC50, but I think the point applies equally across the board. I am so freakin’ frustrated by this incrementalism that’s infecting our damn sphere of innovation!

Do you remember 2001-2002? Let me talk about two things that happened back then, that I saw personally, that illustrate my point.

1) Blogging: I started blogging in 1999. Dave Winer invented it much earlier than that. Yet in 2001, I could count on my hands and feet the number of “bloggers” there were. Blogging just wasn’t that big of a deal. But to those of us doing it, it was a world changer. And it really has been. Blogging was the launch pad that took us from the web of pages to the read/write web to the web of flow that we’re seeing today. None of that happens without blogging (and RSS). None of it. How’d it start? Slowly. Painstakingly. But with a group of people who saw a larger vision and really didn’t give a damn about driving Tesla’s or fitting in with some geographically cool crowd. We blogged because we knew it mattered. Period.

2) Digital Identity: I got into the identity game in 2001. Folks that arrived there via directories were there long before me. But when I arrived, there really wasn’t an “identity management” industry. That industry today is worth billions of dollars. Why did it come to life? There were about 250 of us that really honestly and truly believed that identity was the single most important thing that could be figured out for the advancement of technology. It was THE big solution to THE big problems. I still have friends and cohorts slaving away on that problem — but that original passion was inescapable.

In both of those instances, you could just feel the innovation. The “we have to build this because - dammit - if we don’t, who’s gonna?”

Does anyone really feel that with the current set of software we’re working on? I feel it from individual people inside of vendors, but that’s not good enough.

One of the truly wonderful things about conferences is when you find this weird table of engineer-types huddled over beers starting at a computer screen. Occasionally, those people work for (or are founders of) software companies. And every once in a while, they’re NOT talking about some partnership they can do to help drive revenue. Nope - they’re talking about how if you code this and I hack that, we can build this thing that no one’s even figured out how to talk about yet. And wouldn’t that be cool!

I’m waiting to really see that moment coalesce. I know it’s out there. I think I’ll see it at defrag. I’ll do everything I can to help foster it. Until then, I’m frustrated — and no amount of “case studies” in the world are gonna help me get over that.

So, can we please move past this incrementalism and start thinking big?

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