As published in HuffingtonPost
This post is best framed with this old African proverb:
An elephant can never see the world through the ant’s eyes, but the ant merely needs to climb on the back of the elephant to see his world.
And with that, here is our real world tech tale of the ant and elephant.
As a marketing startup, I had the rare chance to meet with a senior Google exec. It was a meeting arranged for me by a customer who was looking to vet our venture’s topic-based network approach to social marketing. I was eager and anxious for the meeting, since so much rested on our understanding of how Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm changes the discoverability game on the Internet.
Very quickly he validated our overall tech and thinking about how Google’s new SEARCH algorithms prefers “clean SEO” sites, and he agreed that the opt-in dimension of our network was a true point of difference. I was encouraged. He was quite enamored with our approach as a viable platform for brands to go deep on a topic and engage with customers meaningfully. We weren’t changing the world, but we were providing a happy place for users and a productive platform for brands.
Then the Google Exec said the best thing I could hear: “I can see this as a solid $100-$200MM business” — exactly in line with my own projections, even though I never sent him our Exec Summary.
I was ecstatic for a moment, until it was followed by his characterization of a business this size as a “Ma and Pa shop.” Anyone in the startup world knows that this is a line in the VC investment sand taking me out of investment contention until I “prove the model.”
The din in my ears was deafening about now.
How did a potentially $200MM business get relegated to the small potatoes pile not worthy of serious VC investment?
What’s up with Silicon Valley’s “disruption infatuation” excluding great companies that can create thousands of high paying jobs? The world doesn’t need too many Twitters or Facebooks.
I may never get answers to any of these questions because the sad truth is that the “Ma and Pa shop” designation is as damning as the branded “A” on poor Hester Prynne’s forehead, leaving me on my own to “prove it out.”
A rather harsh “sentence” given our early corporate sales closed within months of launch (late last year), not an insignificant proof milestone. Alas, that seems not to be proof enough. “The full business model needs to be proven” says the elephant. A standard most assuredly not applied to “disruptive” tech startups.
In the end, I am left both exalted at the validation of our business projections, but deeply discouraged that it is so easily dismissed as a “Ma and Pa” shop. It would seem rather laughable to equate a business in the $100-$200MM range as a “Ma and Pa shop,” usually meant to describe truly small scale operations designed to sustain a family but not much more.
Somehow in the tech venture echo chamber, this definition became deeply distorted.
It would all sound too discouraging, except this is when we remember our ant’s ability to climb to the top of that elephant’s for the best view of all. And with this perspective, us ants get the $1B view.
Up we go.