But the key thing to realize is that everyone has been there. Caterina did not start as a celebrity - she created a useful product and built her reputation, which she is now leveraging. I bet that when she was starting she was looking at articles of experienced entrepreneurs wondering the same thing that you express in your blog.
And that's what entrepreneurship is all about - finding your angle, your opportunity to create an unfair advantage. It is not easy and there certainly is no standard "here's how you do it" answer - but I hope you don't fall into the trap of thinking that as a new entrepreneur there's nothing you can do to win against more experienced folks. That's the very definition of entrepreneurship - disrupting the status quo by creating something that satisfies a previously unrealized core need.
But anecdotally, I don't see a strong correlation between celebpreneur status and repeated success. I suspect that any correlation might actually be negative.
There are a few people who defy the odds, though. The one common trait I've observed is that they are laser-focused on the product, so they are less prone to self-delusion.
UPDATE: Brandon Smietana wrote a good answer for this on Quora, reviewing some empirical studies which suggest my intuition is wrong. Entrepreneurs with previous success are probably as likely, or more likely, to succeed in the future. But it's not a given that funding inevitably flows to the more experienced entrepreneur.
Building a successful business from scratch is incredibly difficult no matter who you are. Getting a lot of publicity in tech circles in no way translates to success. It can be useful sure, but it won't help without a sticky product to begin with, and if you have a sticky product then there are plenty of other avenues for promotion. There are plenty of ways to bootstrap, and a lot of them will yield more paying customers than getting a flurry of fickle hipster attention from tech blogs.
It's easy to come onto the scene and look around and think it's all been done and how can you ever break into this world with so many brilliant serial entrepreneurs around, but realize every serial entrepreneur once had their first venture. In reality there's never been a better time to do a startup. The field is not "full"—a lot of successful founders lose their hunger and go on to angle investing, which actually increases your odds of getting funding, and in any case the horizon for new ideas is constantly receding.
That extra free hour might be better spent being socially active vs me writing responses to responses on HN.
How so? Is your suspicion based on the possibility that fame changes people for the worse?
But, that's a minor factor. This is what I was thinking: celebrity is associated with at least one past success, and it becomes like a characteristic of the person, for at least some time. Business success has many more factors, some of them effectively random, and not associated with the person.
So we should expect reversion to mean for the entrepreneur's post-celebrity ventures. While they may succeed more often than others over time, their next big venture would be highly likely to be a flop.
But: Smietana's post linked to research which suggests that I'm actually totally wrong here, and entrepreneurial success is more of a function of skill. Maybe that suggests that the successful entrepreneurs are the ones who learned the best during their first venture, which makes replicating success easier.
Edit: OP edited with the Quora post, which links more successes (or celebristatus) leads to more success.
Most companies from YC, 500 Startups, etc are created by first-time founders, and they've had remarkable success.
It does help to have an "unfair advantage" in your startup. But for most of us it isn't celebrity; it's deep knowledge of a market segment, or a special relationship with a customer or channel, or specialized tech skills, or something else.
Between that, and mentorship from people who have more experience, connections, and/or celebrity than you, you can do almost anything.
Until you change this train of thought, you won't succeed. You need to convince yourself before you can convince others. If you can't even convince yourself, no one's going to buy into it.
If you can convince yourself that you have what it takes to succeed and that your secret sauce or magic formula is enough to staff off even the likes of google, then you'll still convincing others including those VCs you've mentioned.
While I agree with you that you need to be an optimist, you also need to be realistic. If you have no track record and start building a company to compete with virgin galactic you will fail.
Ultimately it's about what you want to do with your life; you can reach for the stars, get a nice safe job at a big company or somewhere in between. But you should acknowledge that the more of a risk you take the likelier you are to fail. Most people with highflying dreams don't make it, and you should factor this into the equation.
It's about being a dreamer. It's about being a risk taker. It's about being overconfident in realms that may be familiar. It's about being so passionate about what your doing, it becomes infectious.
Realists are better fit for project managers at large corporations...
No, that's being an idiot.
A successful entrepreneur - as opposed to someone who loses their shirt - may be a visionary and a dreamer. But they take calculated risks. You have to know when to persevere, when to pivot, and when to give up - especially if you're playing with other people's money or your life savings.
Yes, vision and confidence are important, in order to bring employees, investors and customers on board. But unless they are grounded in reality, you will fail horribly, unless you are very, very lucky.
AFAIK having some mild mania helps in this regard. Probably there are also ways to hack your mind to temporary ‘disable’ doubts that can tone you down.
or maybe you just bring a pusher onto the team to spread the word if the hacker is more of a diffident type
No question the celebrity has a halo around them which helps with getting funded.
But I know of many many cases where VC's are trying to find the next Zuck and they know that person exists somewhere in a coffee shop. And even if that wasn't the case stop with the doubting attitude it won't get you anywhere. (Same with girls btw.)
Some other tips - your blog http://www.remarkedly.com doesn't even have a bio on you or what you've done etc. That would be helpful to someone who might want to approach you after seeing what you have done. Or even reading this on hackernews (HN profile has no contact info either.)
And skychalk.com is also missing any "about" info regarding the founders as well. And while whois for skychalk.com has some contact info (is that you or your partner?) whois for remarkedly is private. It shouldn't be. You need as much exposure as you can.
But theres tons of other apps that solve real world problems, that don't feed off of that type of environment to succeed.
Solve a problem a lot of people have really well and you can compete on your own and then go on to raise capital to really compete.
Instead of developing something, waiting 3 months to see how it goes & then putting it in the closet because it wasn't popular enough, iterate. Why didn't it took of? What should you change, who are your customers, how can you get them to use the product? If your customers don't use the product, why don't they use it?
I bet Caterina is busy asking all these questions and iterating her product. If it succeeds, then I think that's the reason why it succeeds an not because she's a "celeb". There is a difference between the experience from a guy in a coffeeshop and the co-founder of Flickr & Hunch..
"Making a major horizontal product that’s useful in any walk of life is almost impossible to pull off. You can’t charge very much, because you’re competing with other horizontal products that can amortize their development costs across a huge number of users. It’s high risk, high reward: not suitable for a young bootstrapped startup, but not a bad idea for a second or third product from a mature and stable company like Fog Creek."
Anyway, this happens to be useful for me, because it lets me define macros which I can use to build up XML trees. But now if we come to the question: could I sell it for a profit? -- then the answer is "no, because it was too fun to build." Don't get me wrong, it will save me a bit of time (and it might save others a bit of time) to be able to separate my template-development language from HTML -- but I fully expect that a programmer at the startup of your choice who needs it will also say, "this looks like a fun two-day project, let me see what I can do."
Your ideas are not fighting.
Ideas don't matter. Say that over and over again until it sinks in. The fact is, all those other things -- connections, designers, fame, money - might be the key ingredient (or part of the recipe) to make an idea like that take off in a global marketplace. Or not.
We see this with these categories of ideas all the time. Things like cloud storage. Everybody did it -- with all kinds of famous people and different strategies, some expensive, some not. It was finally the Dropbox guys who got it working.
It's like baking a cake that nobody has ever made before and without a recipe. Some cake ideas need fancy ingredients to make work. You're not going to have those. The real trick, however, is taking the ingredients you have and forming the best cake possible, the one the most people want, not looking at what the other guys are doing.
It not a true statement that only big budgets and famous people can create large startups. Perhaps it helps. In either case, don't know, don't care. Focus on what you have. Let those other folks do their own thing. It's better to spend your afternoon finding one person who likes what you are doing and is a customer than it is to spend your energy on this kind of stuff. If you have a customer acquisition model that you've worked out and is humming along, you are doing awesome. The mind plays all kinds of tricks to get us off-path in our startups. To keep us from focusing on what's really important.
Mind your knitting.
ADD: You can look at this the complete opposite way as well. I blogged about the drawbacks money can bring to the startup process just a few days ago: http://www.whattofix.com/blog/archives/2012/02/being-rich-wi... It's the creative assembly of the ingredients you have at your disposal that matters, that you should be concentrating on. Not thinking for a second about some resource you do not have available. It's just a waste of time.
I understand this advice sounds trite and programmed. Something along the lines of "you can do anything!"
I don't mean this as facile. The problem here is by focusing on the ingredients of a startup, and not the assembly, we're not left with anything to talk about. Do you need publicity do do a startup like X? Some people will show you examples of how the answer is "no". Some others will show how the answer is "yes". There's just nothing useful there -- it's the assembly. People can wave their hands around on either side of the discussion and make broad pronouncements, but nobody really knows. Could you start a business selling Porsches if you're poor? I'd guess probably not, but I don't really know for sure. Nobody knows until somebody does it. Startups are new business engines that didn't exist before. It's the quality of the assembled engine that matters, not the individual pieces. Extrapolation and generalization are not very good tools for talking about them. That's the way it works.
If your question was a very detailed one about the exact configuration of your marketing and customer funnel, and the exact strategies being used by your competition, along with data, we would still be guessing a lot, but at least we might get some traction on the problem. But once again, we'd look at perfecting the model using the resources you currently have. But if your question is just guys in coffee shops versus famous people, nothing much useful is going to happen.
So I'm not trying to make an overarching "buck up!" statement. I just don't think you can do any kind of analysis with the question as it has been posed.
I don't think that point can be emphasized enough: your idea is not a unique snowflake. It's the other factors that actually determine success. The idea is the absolute easiest part of anything worthwhile you'll ever build.
The mainstream media sells the notion of the magic idea, the overnight success, etc. I came of age in the initial era of the dotcom fantasy. It was very easy to be sold by the 24/7 press coverage in the mid to late '90s, that magic ideas were worth billions because of how fast bullshit companies were acquiring zillion dollar valuations. Of course you can count on one hand how many dotcom billionaires made it out alive from that era.
It took years, a few failures, and a lot of reading to correct the flawed assumptions I had taken on. I owe a lot to countless web authors, from the likes of Chris Dixon to Mark Cuban to things people like Andreessen and Horowitz have written, and so on and so forth. I think those guys most valuable contributions to other entrepreneurs is in what they write, not the money they invest - they'll have impacted radically more entrepreneurs with the writing.
There are thousands of newsletters and small papers that are online, or going online, and they usually have classifieds that haven't been taken over by craigslist. CL hacks away at the mainstream classifieds, but niche classifieds are still selling.
IDEAS is what matter. Please do not confuse idea with a confused unclear statement with no connection with the specific implementation. Ideas is the specific intellectual way to move forwards and towards your goals.
do you have any good areas where you think young entrepreneurs should be looking?
I've been interested in hyperlocal as well and had a website in the space years ago. I consider it an obvious idea that techies really like, which means there are tons of people working on it. The idea is simply waiting for the market to come around, but once it does, you'll have even more competition including established companies like Foursquare. If a well-known entrepreneur simply getting funding irks you, then you're going to be in for a bumpy ride.
There's no way Pinwheel is going to dominate the entire general category up and down.
No reason SkyChalk shouldn't consider pivoting and looking for a niche to own within the area they're working in. Particularly since they aren't really out any money, so the financial cost of iterating and pivoting some on the existing product should be very very modest.
Is this a case of "celebrity entrepreneurs" vs "guy in coffeeshop" or is it just a better executed idea? Read the above description and compare it to "Find and leave notes around the world". Creating a hyperlocal service is a marginal business proposition in most areas. The authour correctly identifies the lack of density as a problem but also misses the one thing that might make pinwheel a success, increasing adoption and usage of hardware.
We're hiring iOS developers and content interns
Of course this isn't the first time Fake has tied a companies trajectory to hardware, think Flickr and the explosion of digital cameras from 2003. Now we have three requirements for hyperlocal product: Moore's law, geo-location and timing. No make that four. Nowhere in the post did I read any understanding of the importance of mapping or GIS.
Everyone starts with nothing and people succeed based on merit, there is nobody who is creating a shitty product and succeeding just because they are Kevin Rose. BUT, Kevin Rose can start a company and get millions in funding with the snap of his fingers and average Joe has to work and work and grind and grind before that happens. And probably, there are average Joe's out there that do all of this and still don't make it because of some other reason, that may even be out of Joe's control.
So conclusion is that success in the startup world is still about making a great product and building a good business but getting funding in my opinion is just as equally about product as it is about selling the founders to the investors and if you have something good to sell, like 'I created Flickr', it's incredibly easy to raise money. And one could argue that with money comes another level of huge advantage, and the sooner you raise money, the more advantage you have. SO in the end, having experience is a huge differentiator when looking at averages across the board.
However, I think most of those things can actually be replicated (though admittedly not as easily) by the unknown coffee shop entrepreneur. Yes, you have to hustle your ass off. But it works, and most people are very sympathetic to the cause of the underdog entrepreneur and will go out of their way to help.
Additionally, "guys in coffee shops" have the advantage of being extremely agile, can turn their startup on a dime, and can do whatever they want.
This "whatever they want" thing is kind of important -- what I'm saying is "they can do mildly shady stuff". For example, krausejj could have chosen to populate his map with a bunch of fake people and posts, or unknown airbnb type startups can spam craigslist users. I'm not saying it won't bite you in the end, but airbnb seems to be doing great, and whether it was a calculated decision on their part/they were aware of the activities of the third party the engaged or not, I think they're winning now.
Each entrepreneur has different challenges, I'm not saying one isn't easier than the other, but Davids can absolutely wreck Goliaths in some arenas. They just need to embrace a different bag of tricks.
I'm a guy in a coffee shop -- and for now, I wouldn't have it any other way.
You're always going to be competing with someone and unless you are Apple they're going to be bigger, better positioned, and have more money than you.
What is 3 months worth to you in terms of cash?
$100 in facebook advertising can go a long way with the right campaign.
Perhaps you could have spent your resources more efficiently?
The cyclist on the team-sponsored, wind-tunnel optimized trials bike can still be drafted.
Have you actually tried using her app?
eBay had a severe chicken or the egg problem when it started out. So did Craigslist. Almost anything that needs buyers and sellers simultaneously has that problem (or content suppliers and content consumers). Most people overcome it by knocking down one local pin to start with, and then knocking down more pins and more pins and more pins. Groupon is another more recent example, they didn't start out in 250 cities. Amazon.com didn't start out trying to sell everything, they sold a tiny selection of books. Facebook didn't try to conquer the world on day one, they started as an extraordinarily tiny 'app' for Harvard, and once they knocked over that bowling pin....
My favorite example: Plenty of Fish, the dating site. Started by a complete nobody, with almost no money, never took venture capital, and had no famous backers. He knocked down a pin in Canada and around his general area of Canada, to get started. Then it spread across the border to America and went international. He did all of that while stacked up against extreme competition in the dating scene, with monsters like Match & eHarmony that were a million times larger - he managed to find a space he could exist in (free), and focused locally with a product that could later spread globally.
SkyChalk perhaps should have just been for San Francisco, or insert market here, but had the ability to scale once they conquered that first market and proved their product.
The creators of SkyChalk have a lot to learn yet.