There are a number of reasons that companies fail. One of which is being too early. Palm couldn’t get the smartphone to work, same with Blackberry. Newton is the best example of a tablet that was too early. Chevy Volt. There are many.
Today I learned of my third ‘too early’ idea, to make it big.
- In 2006, Joe and Guy built MUT (the Manual Uploader Tool) within Fidelity based on my design for a structured approach to manual data. It was a way to get Excel based data into relational structures so that it could be shared, dimensionalized, standardized, reported and analyzed in a more production stable environment. Joe and I talked all the time of building the same thing outside of Fidelity. We never did. Domo is probably the closest to our approach, did their seed round in 2010 and did rounds of $10M, $100M, $125M in 2011, 2014, 2017 respectively. Granted they took the analytics and integration one step further. Ironically, I heard they have a presence at Fidelity today.
- In 2015 when blockchain started to become a reality, I pitched a Healthcare Transaction Clearninghouse using a public crypto approach to shrink the time for collection and payment of claims and to democratize the data for efficacy research. It was a play to get MM funds to back up book-keeping entries for Fidelity. I originally submitted it through one of those silly idea sourcing internal sites. But I also was able to present at a crypto pitch-athon to the advanced technology team. I got good feedback, but no action. A year later, this story came out about Capital One doing the same thing. I remember lots of emails that day, including one that admitted they heard my pitch a year earlier and missed the opportunity.
- In early 2016, Joe, Sara and, I plus some others within Fidelity, participated in a 2 day hackathon. We mocked up my idea for a social trading platform that would let you invest in stocks recommended by influential people you follow: Minority owned, Women owned, environmentally friendly, etc. I thought it was a great way to do ESG before that acronym became a cliche. I pitched the advanced tech team (nope), multiple senior leaders (cool, go see…) and even the head of brokerage. Who referred me as ‘an interesting idea’ to a marketing person, who quashed it. Today a company out of NY, announced a $15M A-round to build essentially the same thing.
I know that we only reward people who do things, and not just the idea. I have never had resources and so I tried to pitch or build prototypes the best way I could (I SUCK at coding). My objective was to gain support. Build a groundswell. Find partners. Get help.
Seeing the announcement by Public.com today really hurt. I loved that idea. And being in Fidelity, I was finally in a place to make it happen. I talked endlessly about the Innovator’s Dilemma and how we needed to try new things or we would miss the startups undercutting us. Crickets.
I can’t help but feel that the imminent failure of TheMissionZone is going to be another one of these, “You’re too early Josh” moments. But this idea first came to me in an Operations Management class at Bentley… in 1992. I mean COME ON!!! Didn’t I wait long enough this time? I am hoping our patent comes through and I am able to at least reap some reward from trying to do this first. But who knows.
What I have learned is that not only can you not do something yourself, even if you build a successful team, you will not succeed until you kiss the ring of those that can get things done, and you bring them into your world. It’s not that life is stacked against you, there is a way to find success. But traveling outside of those norms is impossible. Maybe that’s why they become norms. And to someone who hates following trends like me, that shit just sucks. Hence why I don’t get shit done.
So if there is a lesson I can impart on the reader it is this: Find the people that can help you get something done, and then blow sunshine and flattery until they let you into their world. You’ll never know when you need to ask them for help. For me that is venture capitalists, but it could be professors, researchers, coaches, social media influencers, etc. Go find the ones that can help you, and then kiss the ring.