In Business Plans, Investment, Market Discovery, Startup Management

Founders need to care about where the market will be when they are ready to serve it – to project the intersection between their vision and market trends.  They need to care about where the market will be in 6 months, a year, two years, five years.  To anticipate that moment of perfect product-market fit, where it all starts.  They have to see beyond that too, to the growth and further development of a market, and how they will keep delivering over time.  Mark Suster put it perfectly: “Invest in Lines, not Dots” – he was referring to his relationship with a team, but clearly the “line” has to extend out into the future.

Some “lines” are clear.  Smartphones experience ever wider adoption.  Wireless data will become more pervasive.  Our lives will move from our hard drives into the cloud.  These trends have already started.  If these trends appear on my pitch deck, investors will either nod sagely, or wonder if I am perhaps just a little behind the times – these trends are obvious.

What happens when the line isn’t clear?  What happens when I am predicting change in an industry or market that even the experts in that industry don’t yet get?  I have no traction, because I am looking at where they will be in five years – looking into a future they haven’t yet imagined because they are so preoccupied dealing with the present?  I will have no traction today, tomorrow, next month, or even next year.  No traction and no revenue.  I am aiming for the stars.

Do I have a bold vision?  Have I plotted a line that is so far ahead of the market that my lead in meeting a future need will be unassailable by the time we get there?  Or am I deranged – imagining a future that will never come?  Will funds I raise be invested in building the next big thing, or squandered on a mirage that retreats into the distance as I approach, eventually evaporating completely?

I think that even for truly bold visions and great ideas that are ahead of their time, there must be some market opportunity in the here and now.  The line must start now, not at some unspecified point in the future.  If a vision is so bold, or an idea so great, that it can generate no traction whatsoever in the market as it stands today, it is also un-investable in the market today.  Perhaps it is even less investable that a dot that represents an huge and immediate opportunity?

We need lines, not dots, and we need lines that start in the here and now.

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