Friday, August 22, 2008

Ideas and Partners

Yesterday I had a great conversation with an old friend Jason Knight. We worked together at Kendara and recently he was the founder and CEO of Wesabe.com . I told him about my plans for upStart.in as an incubator modeled loosely around the YCombinator concepts.

He was super supportive and as our conversation developed he talked at some length about some of the opportunities he sees in software for the retail segment based on his experience helping his wife run a chain of woman's clothing stores called Sway. While he has some vision for how a business in this direction could unfold, how it would develop a sales channel, who potential partners could be, and what the product might look like, this isn't a business he is interested in running. Jane and Jason recently had a second son and between family and helping with Sway his plate is full. Still, if I was incubating a company in this space he might be able to provide investment and advice.

This is indicative of many successful founders I've met who have more ideas than time. It kills them not to be able to express the creativity they feel, and often these are exactly the people you would want involved in a startup were you to do something in their field of interest. It could be a good niche for me to fill with upStart - matchmaking between successful time constrained entrepreneurs on the west coast and teams of eager young entrepreneurs in India excited about the same ideas.

While there's enough magnetic potential between these two populations to make the effort worth while, there are some serious risks. The primary one deals with the concept of entrepreneurship. Jason is clear that he doesn't want to run a company. He has lots of opinions: how the software should look, how the business model would look, what partners to go after..., but these are just opinions, an entrepreneur needs to validate them and ultimately come up with opinions of her own.

So, that seems to be the trick. We know we want to do something in a specific area. We have some vision for how it might look. But really, we need to find entrepreneurs who have similar vision and are willing to dedicate themselves to it. This is the difference between upStart and oDesk. Identifying these kinds of teams and structuring these deals will be a large part of the work I do with upStart.

I guess this isn't so unique. Paul Graham recently posted a long list of ideas he would like to fund.

Soon after I sold Kendara I went to Jon Feiber at MDV with the idea of starting an incubator. His point was that if he was interested in a space X he wouldn't start a company, he would go find an expert in the field of X and back him to start a company.

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