On the plane ride back to California I sat next to a professor whose husband just finished raising a large A round for his first startup. She was a delight to listen to. A PhD all excited about fresh killer technology who explained how no other competitor would be able to beat the startup. It would quickly sell into a billion dollar market and probably be sold in a year or two, making a fortune for the founders and employees.
That is a Cinderella story I hear all too often. It sounds so good, is so compelling and we want it to be true. But real startup life does not work that way.
Instead, the best marketed technology wins. If you examine the history of startups, you will find that the gorillas of new markets never had the best technology. Microsoft, Dell, Amazon, Google and Nokia had very respectable technology but used other elements to compete and emerge from the startup fray as the ultimate winners, the gorillas, of their new market categories.
Techies like me never like to admit that. We love the promise of cool things able to be done with the latest and greatest inventions. We expect others to agree with us.
But the world plays cruel tricks on techies. Apple ends up with two percent of the PC market after building the first commercial PC success. Microsoft crushes its competitors with inferior technology. Ouch! Sad but true.
So expect that. And learn to play the game that way. Spend time studying the marketing methods of the gorillas. Learn what they do to win. Then apply it to your startup.
BOTTOM LINE: Expect the best marketed technology to win. Expect the best technology to not win. Adjust your startup plans accordingly. Yes, you need technology to succeed, so go for it. Yes, tell your tech team to reach for the moon. But also tell your marketing team to use all of their tools to get that technology into the winner's seat, with customers ignoring the competition's offering, pounding on your doors to get you to ship your new thing to them as fast as possible. That is how to use cool technology. It is a powerful insight to add to the construction of your unfair advantage.