For the last couple years, when people have asked me what is needed to improve the startup eco-system in New England, my response has been “more shots on goal”.
I have firmly believed in this. It was (and continues to be) important to break the impression that starting a company is only for the extremely experienced and extremely well pedigreed. I think talented people should be encouraged to take a swing and build something, and more experienced members of the startup community should do more to contribute to the ecosystem.
But I think things have changed a bit in the past few years – activity levels are on the rise, investors are more open to backing younger entrepreneurs, and there are many great projects in the works. Even while this weekend’s Globe article lamented certain weaknesses in this region, the article points to the fact that the local startup culture is indeed changing. But as I was quoted in the article, I think this momentum should bring an evolution in focus. It’s time for the start of Act II, and this act is less about more “shots on goal” and more about “Golazo”.
For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase, “Golazo” is a Spanish soccer slang for an “awesomely amazing goal”. In this context, what I mean is that while volume of activity is great, what we need is more truly remarkable, enduring successes that will inspire hundreds more because of them.
Easier said than done, obviously, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think this means practically. But I’ll offer a couple more specific thoughts.
First, for entrepreneurs, “Golazo” means grander ambitions and building a foundation for enduring companies. That starts with the strength of early teams. In recent years, the increased availability of seed capital has led to an interesting tradeoff for talented folks. Do I join the early team of a startup for a point or two of equity? Or do I start my own thing and own all of it? Increasingly, the biggest competitor to recruiting isn’t Google or Facebook, it’s the option of striking out on one’s own (this is actually most acute in Silicon Valley).
I think this is generally a good sentiment. But I also think that some projects are just more worthy of the efforts of extremely bright people than others. Plus, being a small part of a monstrous endeavor can be more fulfilling (and financially rewarding perhaps) than being a large part of something less ambitious. I think (and hope) that we are going to start seeing more teams with deeper density of talent going after more ambitious projects in the next several years. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to be involved with the founders of Boundless Learning, each of whom could have probably raised money for three different companies, but chose to work together on one massive opportunity.
Second, as a contributor and participant in the startup ecosystem, “Golazo” means investing more time in fewer high-quality areas. Given the wealth of activity that has sprung up in the past several years, I find that many of the generous mentors and experienced entrepreneurs in our community are spread pretty thin. We are all trying to be as supportive as we can be, so we volunteer to speak on a panel here, be a mentor there, etc. But shallow involvement in many projects probably isn’t nearly as impactful as really taking emotional ownership of a company or a cause and being a champion for it.
I was very impacted by TechStars Demo Day in New York this year when each company was introduced by their primary mentor. Although I’m sure each team benefited by exposure to many great folks, the fact that one person took it upon themselves to really try to impact one team to be as successful as possible was very powerful. I hope TechStars Boston is taking the same tact. I’m going to try to bring that mindset with me in some of the things I’m involved with as well.
I’m excited to see how Act II unfolds. It’s early, but we are building off a strong base with a ton of momentum. I’m glad to be a small part of it.