If I only had [ ]...04.02.11
Several years ago, I took a writing class taught by Karen Crouse who is a sports writer for the New York Times. Obviously, in a writing/journalism class, one of the things you have to do is to go out and interview people for your articles -- and that involves getting access. (I'll do a separate blog post on getting access for documentaries) As you can imagine, all of us in the class found this fairly nerve-wracking -- we've likely never asked people for this type of permission before and in terms of personality, the type of individuals attracted to writing are probably more likely to be shy/introverted rather than gregarious/bold.
I remember the comment from one student to Karen which was along the lines of, "It sure must be nice to tell (potential interview subjects) that you're from the New York Times." The obvious implication of it being: it's so hard for us because we're nobody but because you're at the Times, it's so easy for you. I didn't fully appreciate Karen's response at the time, but I've found it completely true. She said that having the Times behind her does help -- but only so much. It helps her initially just to get started, but she still has to do all the legwork that everyone else has to do -- build trust/rapport, get them comfortable in terms of who you are and the type of journalist you are, etc. In other words, the Times matters, but it doesn't. In other words, whether or not you have to the Times behind you -- they generally give you access based on 1 thing: whether or not they like you. For that particular assignment, I ended up getting access to the entire staff at a local PinkBerry -- they literally sat there and would answer every question I had and let me stay as long as I wanted. Never would've thought that would be possible.
I thought about this because I recently met a student thinking about starting a sports-related enterprise. Side note: when folks ask to meet with me who are looking to start something -- they obviously always ask me what do I think of their idea? I do usually have some thoughts, but I often don't know (some require a lot of domain expertise, I think, to have a tangible sense of the market, market need, etc.) and more importantly, I don't think my opinion matters all that much. John Doerr has a great quote -- something like, "Ideas are easy. Execution is everything." That's the way I feel. There's going to be a thousand and one things (or much more) for a startup that has to be done in order to go from conception to finish. Along the way, there's going to be so much information that comes about where the idea will change and morph and grow. PayPal was like the 9th idea those guys worked on. Groupon started as collective buying I think. That's not to say to start with a bad idea -- but I guess I feel like it's better to start... AND FINISH -- rather than endlessly plan.
So in terms of the sports idea -- I have no idea if it's good or bad or if her long term vision is a great one or not. This is what I do know. It's not super hard for them to get it off the ground. They definitely could launch a v1 on their own dime with their team working on it and not needing to raise any money. So that's what I asked her -- why not just do it? They already have the idea, a business plan, a team, a bunch of assets (connections they've made that would support them in one capacity or another)... In her mind, the barrier was along the lines of, "But if we had [ ] -- we could then do [ ]." But that's always true. Sure -- if they had $10 million, maybe they could buy this or buy that. But how do you get $10 million? My point was for her to start small and create something tangible. And it wouldn't have to be a raging success. But at that point -- you have a website, you have an event that you created, you have an asset that other people can react to and interact with and they have the confidence of being able to see your work, your ability to put something together -- and then who knows? I have no doubt that they could easily get corporate sponsorships for the thing -- but they need something to react to (and this is pre-launch too; just having a website would probably be enough to close at least a handful of partnerships and once you get one or two, you can get many more.) Painting a long term vision to an investor from an actual product is completely different than painting one from a bunch of paper.
I'm a planner by nature. Actually, let me take that back. I think I had evolved into a planner because for a long time I was pretty risk-averse. Probably still more than I'd like to be. Planning is fun. It's all dreams and ambitions and nothing goes wrong and it's very safe. Doing stuff is hard. It's hard work to go do all the nuts and bolts. So that's the flip for me -- plan less, do more -- or at least I try to. Let yourself fail, let yourself screw up, ok to look bad -- but get it done, learn, and do better next time. Put yourself out there. I don't always do it -- but that's the mentality I keep pushing myself towards.