Thanks to my good friend Lois, I found out about the Startup Grind: Vancouver event that went on yesterday. The special guest speaker was Boris Wertz, who cofounded JustBooks, a used book trading site that was acquired by AbeBooks and then later Amazon.
Boris had some great stories about the pre-dotcom boom days of the late 1990s, when Web 1.0 ruled the world for a very brief period of time. Like many a successful entrepreneur, Boris became an angel investor and is now a venture capitalist, helping to fund the next generation of startups.
The most interesting thing Boris said was when someone asked if succeeding as an entrepreneur was easier today or fifteen years ago. He argued that it is harder to be successful today. Ironically, the reason is because it is so much easier to start a company than ever before!
Back in the day, it took $200,000 of venture capital just to purchase the server hardware and software needed to just have a website! Whereas today you can just use Amazon EC2 and start a website for free, using free software tools (like, say, newLISP on Rockets!)
So because it cost more to get off the ground, there were far fewer Internet companies back then. Once you got funded you were off to the races. Now, sure, it’s easy to start a website, but you have to compete with the millions of people who are also starting websites.
I see parallels in this story to the publishing industry. Back in the day you had to get approved by a publisher, but once you did, you were guaranteed sales because you were in the bookstores. Now, anybody can publish, but making money is harder.
It’s just the way the world has gone, however. I think it’s a mistake to try and live life by the scripts that worked for people fifteen years ago. We have to write our own stories.
I met a lot of interesting people at the networking portion of the talk. I was glad to see that it wasn’t twentysomethings-- there were lots of people of all ages, and lots of people trying different paths to entrepreneurship. One interesting fellow is building a company all by himself using just the server in his basement, but he has some great ideas. I’ll be checking that site out when it launches next week.
Overall, it was a great event. It made me realize that there are many different paths to starting a business, and following the techniques that worked for others in the past may not be the best idea. We all just have to muddle through and figure things out ourselves. As Boris said, if he pitched his old team and idea to his venture capital company today, he wouldn’t fund himself!
I’m still figuring out my own path. Like many things in my life, I’m confident I’ll get there eventually.