I just witnessed over a dozen startups ride up and down an elevator.
No, not just for fun – and yes they were pitching to investors. In less than 30 seconds each venture needed to cover what problem they solve, what value their product brings to the world and why they are the right team for the job.
The adrenaline was pumping and nerves were shaking. It was a fun experience– but the reality however is that these occurrences rarely happen. And if and when they do, it’s not the time it takes to pitch that counts so much as the timing in the grand order of things.
Timing is important. In fact, it’s so crucial that a study from Idealab founder Bill Gross says it accounts for 42% of the difference between a startup failing or succeeding. Consider teeing up a story of why your product or service matters today (or come launch time) and paint the picture for why it contextually fits your market. Remember Napster? It popped up in the summer of 1999 and closed down just two years later (It was too progressive for its own good and it also broke a myriad of laws). Peer-to-peer MP3 sharing itself actually dates back further to 1994 with the man who broke the music business. Being too far ahead of your time in a nascent market (or too far behind in a mature one) can be the difference between going big and going bankrupt.
When It’s Bad
My timing hasn’t always been so pretty – in fact it has plain sucked. Just before the turn of the century my first career in the music industry depended on selling vinyl records. Sales for vinyl LPs and singles were nearing the worst in history and it appeared that both would soon become obsolete.
My next foray into fashion just after the turn of the century was no better timed. I launched mid-market fashion brands that quickly became popular with multi-label retailers like Urban Outfitters and Topshop. In those early days, things went swimmingly. That is, until the fast fashion movement erupted. High street newcomers like H&M, Zara and Primark and the groundswell of the Great Recession – extinguished demand for the brands. That’s when I really learned the meaning of Innovate or Die.
When It’s Good
I have been fortunate to have some good timing too. Leading the launch London’s first Fashion and Technology Accelerator happened right at the sweet spot when the ‘FashTech’ movement was gaining steam. Bourgeoning startups from the first cohort included Tinder for shoes startup Stylect and designer brand Vinaya. Shortly after a myriad of fashion focused startups, incubators and investment funds popped up. The icing on the cake was topped when Wired released it’s Fashion goes Tech edition.
And just last year with the launch of the UK’s first hardware incubator, Central Research Laboratory, I have been a part of a new breed of businesses that are already making waves. These include digital drawing startup Canvas and electromechanical glove maker Learning Hand. The incubator also happens to be an integral instrument in the regeneration of Hayes – a £250 million scheme. The timing this time around, seems impeccable.
When It’s Great
One look at emerging startups today and many are just an exploitation of the dated Craigslist page. Those that appear to be in the right place at the right time are not just capitalizing on peer-to-peer network effects but on the maturity of a particular geographic region.
Timing today for a smart startup couldn’t be riper – in particular in Asia. In addition to being in the right place at the right time, those starting up or entering this market can also benefit from: favourable government schemes, the swift rise of the middle class and a growing user base that will soon make up over half of the word’s population.
On reflection, sure it may be the timing that matters most. Ironically though for me, it is Vinyl records that are witnessing a revival. Cassette tapes and compact discs may have gone the way of the dodo bird – but Vinyl is now the craft beer of music formats.
It’s got me thinking too that if you have the audacity to stick with something long enough, it just might come back round again.