“You ever notice how the first slide in any pitch deck these days is ‘[industry] IS BROKEN?'” A friend pointed this out to me last week talking over coffee during a cold rainy New York afternoon. It was noted with a bit of smirk – both in terms of its consistency but also how it has a “to a hammer, everything is a nail” quality — the world is broken and entrepreneurs are here to make it better!
Now of course there’s a beautiful truth to this: entrepreneurs see problems everywhere. Problems they are compelled to fix. One of my emerging theories is the best products/startups are built on an emotional base of love and greed. Love in the sense that the founders are motivated by some deep warmth and appreciation towards the area they’re innovating within. And greed not solely in the notion they want to make lots of money – although they believe profits are a tool – but rather that they won’t stop until everyone is a customer because their product is just that good, and that’s the way the world should work. Looking at Homebrew’s 2013 investments I see clear examples of founders “fixing” their industries with love, not contempt. The two most striking for me are UpCounsel and The Skimm.
UpCounsel connects businesses with on-demand legal support by creating a marketplace, really a virtual law firm, of the best independent attorneys. Folks like the Wall Street Journal are taking notice. Matthew Faustman, UpCounsel’s CEO/cofounder, is a lawyer himself, having left prestigious firm Latham & Watkins to create what he saw as the future of the legal profession. UpCounsel wasn’t founded because Matt hates lawyers. Quite the opposite – he believes both lawyers and clients are underserved by current options and he can build a way for both sides to have more meaningful interactions. The large law firm structure is crumbling and UpCounsel wants to make sure every great independent lawyer has everything they need to succeed. Look at Matt – he’s a handsome smart guy. Could have stayed the course, made partner, got the nice house, etc. But that wasn’t the impact he wanted to make on his profession. He stepped away from a surer thing to do the new thing. And I see that DNA in his business. In the way they interact with lawyers on the platforms – recognizing they’re talented, unique individuals, not just fungible resources.
For Carly and Danielle at The Skimm – close to the same story. Two twentysomething NBC News rising stars but felt to the core of their bones that traditional media was underserving their generation and any other busy professional who wanted to stay in the know. What do most people do? Nothing. Keep collecting the salary, the promotions, the false stability. Instead they left. Not shaking a first at the existing institutions and toasting how they’ll burn them to the ground, but with love. We can do this different and better. And we need to do it from outside of the current structure in order to bring it to life true to our vision.
At Homebrew I’m getting excited by founders with domain expertise who turned their back on short-term traditional safety to build something they believe is better than their industry is currently offering. I know Matt, Carly and Danielle are doing it with love. Better ask them about the greed part too 😉