Can you predict the future?

crystal ballIf so, perhaps you should play the stock market not start a company. But doing either requires predicting the future. And in the latter case, which interests us, perhaps what is more important is that you can convince others that you can predict the future: employees, investors, customers. I’ve posted about this subject before, How to invent the future, about two videos of Alan Kay about predicting the future. That was two years ago, but they are still recommended viewing!

Today’s article in The New York Times by Mike Isaac and Kate Conger As I.P.O. Approaches, Lyft’s Chief Is Nudged Into the Spotlight it was really about the contrasting personalities of Lyft’s CEO and President. It turns out that Lyft’s President is the extrovert and the CEO is the introvert, in a reversal of the typical personality assignments. That’s about all you need to know. 

But the article ended with a great quote from a 2017 interview with CEO Logan Green:

“As an entrepreneur, you always kind of want what you’re pitching to sound somewhat off the wall,” he said. “You’re trying to pitch the future that doesn’t exist, and you want it to be — it needs to be — a little bit of a stretch.”

Thus the writers left the most important lesson for founders for last. Here’s a few random notes about predicting the future for founders:

  • Linear extrapolation won’t work. Saying that there will just be more of something, more teenagers, more fishermen, more whatever won’t get you very far with your audience.
  • Investors and others look for disruption. What is that? A real phase change in a current industry, like Uber, Lyft and driverless cars. Why is disruption so important? For one thing is knocks the incumbent companies for a loop. They go from competitors to also-rans. At least until they wake up and start buying startups, as GM did with Cruise. For another it can spur an entire market ecosystem, as Apple’s iPhone has done with the App Store.
  • Riding a mega change wave will work. Zinga’s Farmville game rode the success of Facebook to put games on a totally new platform – the social network. But timing is essential. If you are too early on a megachange, as I was with iShop, a mobile app to help shoppers find what they were looking for built in 2002, the infrastructure just isn’t there to support your product. Similarly if you are too late, building touch screen phones, the competition will but you out of business. Convincing investors and others that one) the mega change – whether it be in technology, government regulation or consumer behavior will enable your product and two) you have the exquisite go to market timing to avoid the two dangers of mistimed market entry.
  • The accelerator and the gas pedal. The ideal founder partnership is composed of the visionary extrovert who can influence all stakeholders that he’s right about their vision of the future and the operations expert who has the chops to actually make it happen.  Don’t try to be Elon Musk – for every singleton founder there are dozens or hundreds of founder teams. Investors and others have to make two major decisions: one, is your idea truly groundbreaking and two) are you the right guys to execute it?
  • Finding a problem that technology hasn’t touched yet. Truck driving seems very mundane. But in actuality its very important as huge amount of goods are delivered by trucks every day.  Choosing to make trucks driverless as Ike has meets two important criteria: it rides the mega wave of driverless vehicles pioneered by Uber and Lyft and while fleet owners can’t find enough qualified truck drivers they haven’t used technology to solve their problem.
  • The mustier the industry the better! Whether it’s shaving with Harry or truck driving with Ike, these industries have remained basically unchanged for decades. And in the case of Harry it was the business model, not technology, that disrupted this very large but very crusty industry.
  • Work backwards. Start your presentations with your vision of the future. You used to have 15 seconds to capture your audience’s attention, now I think it’s six. Once you have predicted a future you are off to a great start, but you are far from done. Drawing a semi-plausible roadmap on how you’ll get to that future is the next step.

Predicting the future isn’t easy. Just check out how monkeys throwing darts have fared against professional stock pickers, or the percent of startups that fail. But without a compelling vision of the future you will have a hard time attracting partners, staff, investors and most important of all, customers. Let’s face it, the present is boring. It’s the future that exciting, sexy, and attractive.



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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