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The Best Platform for Incubation Is the Web

By - September 10, 2013

egg_20hatch1(image) Yesterday in the course of my seemingly endless attempt to stay current in this industry, I came across this article on VentureBeat: Searching for the next Zuckerberg: A day in the life of a Lightspeed Fellow. It chronicles the experiences of the chosen few who have made it into a VC-backed incubator, focusing on two Stanford students who are trying to create a new sensor for lap swimming.

I recently took up the sport, and find the gadget interesting. But what really struck me was the casual use of Zuckerberg’s name in the headline, and how it was used in context of the ecosystem that has sprung up in the past five or so years around entrepreneurship. Don’t get me wrong, I think incubators and accelerators are important components of our business ecosystem. But I’ve always liked the fact that anyone with a great idea, access to the Internet, and an unrelenting will can spark a world beating company simply by standing up code on the Internet, and/or leveraging the information and relationship network that is the web.  That’s how Facebook started, after all. And Google, and Amazon, Twitter and eBay, and countless others. No gatekeepers, no contests, no hackathons or pre-seed rounds. A great idea, and a great platform: the Web.

I wonder if the next Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg would ever start at Lightspeed, Y Combinator, or TechStars. Certainly amazing companies and ideas have come from inside those estimable establishments, and more will come in the future. But the peculiar fire which drives folks who are truly “the next Zuckerberg” – I wonder if that fire needs stoking from anything else than the Internet itself. If we institutionalize that fire, I think we lose something. A simple page on the open web, offering a service, waiting to be engaged with, to learn from that engagement, to rapidly iterate and grow, to fall down and fail and try again.

In the past few years, entrepreneurship seems to have become a profession, like acting or sales or architecture. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, it means more companies, more jobs, and more great ideas. On the other, something about it strikes me as a bit …forced. I can’t put my finger on it, quite yet, but it centers around the idea that we’re credentializing innovation.  That feels somehow off. The beauty of the innovation that flows from the open web is that no one has to ask for permission, get a credential, or win a Disrupt or Launch award to go prove their idea is worthy. They just…put up a page on the web, iterate, iterate, iterate…and eventually, a Facebook emerges.

I may be just an old school dude, reacting to how the kids are doing it now. Maybe – but I never saw starting companies as a career path. I saw it as something I just had to do – the only thing I could do. I plan to spend more time at these incubation spaces, to check my gut and see what I might be missing. Consider this some out loud thinking for a late Tuesday night. What do you think?

 

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  • http://pkitano.com/ pkitano

    Here’s why I think entrepreneurship feel different: 20-somethings hackathoning by rules dictated by the accelerator ecosystem – build iPhone apps, ignore anything that doesn’t scale, etc. The credentializing of innovation is strikingly similar to 1999 when the first wave of online innovation denigrated old world business models and created AOL Time Warners. It’s great to be young, but a background and experience in maturing business models is what makes an entrepreneur. Building an app on the web and iterating is the best way to build business models, but they aren’t doing it this way because… according to today’s rules, it’s hard to scale.

    • johnbattelle

      Yes, we are in love with scale. But then again, “bespoke” seems to be making a comeback too.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

    100% accurate.

  • chrisdorr

    I think you are on to something. The irony of creating something new, whether it be a business or a work of art (say a movie, a song, a painting, a novel) is that the more you try to teach it, apply rules to it, the more strain you put on it–you make it more like a factory making widgets—thus hampering the process of innovation itself. It can be clearly counterproductive. Not to say that these processes don’t need support, they do, the question is how confining should the support be? They should not be smothered, they should be allowed to grow in order to find their own path, which might lead to success.

  • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

    “In the past few years, entrepreneurship seems to have become a profession, like acting or sales or architecture.”

    Yup. The issue, in my mind, is people are now becoming tech entrepreneurs with money as the primary motivator. They are more focused on building a company to capture (and waste) people’s time/attention & then sell the company. They aren’t focused on, or OBSESSED with, solving a real world problem for a large number of people. I really hate the “time suck” economy – http://www.geekwire.com/2013/time-suck-economy-starting-building/

    • johnbattelle

      I honestly don’t even care if it solves a problem for a large number of people, what I think is key is that the entrepreneur and team are passionate about solving any problem – as long as it’s one that dents their universe in a positive way.

      • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

        Agreed. I guess I don’t really care about the size of the problem either. The part that irks me is all the people who aren’t passionate about the problem they are solving; but rather just motivated by the revenue/exit opportunity. Money is a motivator for some, but I think all the truly great entrepreneurs are motivated by something way beyond that.

        • johnbattelle

          Agreed