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There's another common thought I hear voiced often: That you have to come up with an idea that no one else has done before - a green field idea. That's wrong. Competition in a space is often a sign that there's something valuable there. Competition is energizing. A lot of the ideas I'm thinking about exploring already have established players or startups - it's just that I think I can execute much better than them.

Yep. There's a quote from Bob Parsons (of GoDaddy fame) that goes something like (paraphrased roughly) "Don't be afraid to enter a crowded market, just be better than everybody else."

This is kind of our mindset at Fogbeam Labs, where - depending on how some details shake out - we'll be competing with everybody from Jive Software, Yammer, Alfresco and Broadvision (among others), to Salesforce, IBM, Cisco and Microsoft.

But that's fine. We have an angle to pursue that we think will let us make some inroads against those guys, and we're spoiling for a good fight. Heck, as far as I'm concerned, those guys should be sleeping with one eye open. :-)




I suspect Peter Thiel would likely say something along the lines of pursue the thing you know you're right about and which everyone else insists you're wrong...

Which boils down to either extreme failure or extreme success and little in-between...


This is something I don't agree with Peter Thiel on - at least for your first startup.

Elon Musk couldn't have started SpaceX and Tesla right out of school, he had to build up skill, credentials, and connections first.

For your first startup, make something awesome but try to fly people to Mars. A small acquisition or a business with nice revenue might be the better goal.


You have to take Peter Thiel as an ala carte buffet:

In my own life, had I chosen the startup over grad school, I would easily be worth $100M+ right now. I had a ground floor opportunity I idiotically passed on because I was young, stupid, and too idealistic. So I see his point.

That said, I shudder at the thought of hiring a programmer who struggled with calculus and nothing assures me better on that axis than straight As on math and computer science courses above and beyond requirements for their major.

Individuals vary, and one of the best coders I know got a 2-year associates degree out of community college, but this is a really nice foot in the door for me when I don't know the person already.


"You have to take Peter Thiel as an ala carte buffet" - excellent good point. Paul Graham is a little bit more of a set meal.


I hope you don't feel too bad about passing on the startup opportunity. Hindsight is 20/20, and no startup is guaranteed to earn $100M for its founders. Maybe it's regrettable for not getting the experience you'd obtain win/lose, but the money part is a lottery.


I think you meant "but don't try to fly people to Mars".

I'm mostly leaf reading, but it seems to me you are recommending a lean startup / lifestyle business as a first startup. A less ambitious endeavour than say, Google or Amazon, with the primary goal of acquiring skills, small but safer revenue, a stepping stone to the next, bigger, enterprise. Very inspiring, and something young engineers should think about.

BTW, I restate my request from my unsolicited email (hope you don't mind): please share some startup ideas, even if execution is everything, some of us younger, less experienced engineers find brainstorming and finding ideas harder, and would really appreciate some inspiration.


Google started as an umpteenth search company on cheap machines and offered to sell out for one million, and Amazon started just by selling books from a website with buggy tech and workers kneeling on the floor to package the books. They both started at an easily accessible entry point too. But they each had a feasible path from humble to world-changing in a way that Elon maybe didn't going from online media and payments through a step function into disrupting transportation energy and yanking humanity into a spacefaring civilization. Even with, he was learning to get better at the game as he went along, and laying the foundation for SpaceX at the level of asking the rich questions, making the connections, and digging hard for elusive answers while he was still at x.com/PayPal. You probably always have to go through the foundation of exploring for the right questions to explore, to emerge with a meaningful advantage.


Oh yes, I did mean the negative - thanks for the correction. Responded to your email too.


This is something I don't agree with Peter Thiel on - at least for your first startup.

Elon Musk couldn't have started SpaceX and Tesla right out of school, he had to build up skill, credentials, and connections first.

I agree with your point, but "your first startup" is not necessarily "right out of school." In my own case, I'm working on my first startup, after about 15 years in the IT world. And it's been those years of IT experience that has led to me (and to some extent, my co-founders, both of who are younger than I) to develop those beliefs where we feel like we believe something that everybody else doesn't.

For your first startup, make something awesome but try to fly people to Mars. A small acquisition or a business with nice revenue might be the better goal.

Yeah, we're thinking IPO, and eventually acquiring Microsoft. If you're going to dream, dream big, I always say. :-)


I can no longer edit my comment, but instead of: "For your first startup, make something awesome but try to fly people to Mars."

I meant: "For your first startup, make something awesome but don't try to fly people to Mars."


I suspect Peter Thiel would likely say something along the lines of pursue the thing you know you're right about and which everyone else insists you're wrong...

I didn't even realize it was Peter Thiel who said that, but I embrace that mindset as well. We have a document in our repo called "What we believe" that is where we catalog the things that we think about the world, that we suspect most everybody else would disagree with us on. Looking at that periodically is a valuable tool to help us focus on how we're going to be different.


Does that really change anything, though?

In one case the great new idea is a new product, in the other case the great new idea is how to be better than the competition.




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