The Fallacy of Stealth Mode

It’s a popular strategy these days – putting up a mysterious landing page claiming you are creating the next “big thing” and asking people to sign-up for the beta, not even knowing what it is. And guess what? It works! Curiosity gets the better of us and we opt in, handing out email address over to some strange start-up, anxiously awaiting to test out their new product.

Stealth mode can definitely be an effective way of raising early curiosity and getting people to sign up for something before you are ready to launch it. It raises hype and creates a stir.

Here is the problem though: when you don’t tell us anything about what this new product/service is, we are free to let our imagination go wild. The issue there is that chances are, we are going to imagine your thing to be crazy awesome. So cool, so bold – so game changing, that it is too good to be true. And that is precisely what it is. Because when you finally do unveil it, that anxious early adopter will more than likely be disappointed. The real thing didn’t live up to the wild fantasy – it rarely ever does.

Bottom line: think carefully about the go-to-market strategy. Sometimes, a mix of stealth & some handy clues is the most effective way to get the right people excited about a new venture.

College Kids as Venture Capitalists? You bet!

Over the past 2 years, I have been a part of a Fellowship program at .406 Ventures, a $170M early stage technology venture capital firm based in Boston, MA. The program is designed to introduce highly entrepreneurial college students to the venture capital process and ultimately grow their entrepreneurial skills so they can start awesome technology companies. 

The 13 Student Fellows represent campuses all along the east, from Harvard to Carnegie Mellon. Each Fellow is responsible for identifying exciting high growth technology start-ups founded by students in their school, collaborating with the other Fellows and .406 investment professionals to evaluate the opportunities and then connect their classmates to the vast resources of one of the highest regarded venture firms in the Boston tech scene. This past year, the group introduced over 250 start-ups to .406. 

There were a ton of learning opportunities throughout the program:

  • Networking – I got to meet so many cool people through deal sourcing for .406. In fact, one of them is now my business partner.
  • Learning – I got to observe pitches and participate in the deliberation process after. Now when it’s my turn to pitch, I know exactly what to do.
  • Internships – the partnership knows everybody, and connects the fellows with great internships. I just finished one at a .406 portfolio company.
  • The Fellows – the group consists of incredible students doing amazing things at their schools. As the program grows, so does the network.

For any current students considering the Fellowship, it has been a cornerstone of my college experience, and I passionately recommend it.

Living with your parents… is… AWESOME

I recently finished a semester-long co-op and have decided to spend the summer starting a new tech company with another student from Duke. After careful consideration, we decided to both live at home with my parents for the summer so we can focus 100% on what we are building (more details on that later).

With the Northeastern co-op schedule, I haven’t lived at home since I graduated high school. What I am quickly discovering though is that for a bunch of 20 year olds writing cool software, living at home can be fantastic

  • It’s free! My parents know that if we end up with $millions from the company we’ll send some their way.
  • Food. I’ve been cooking (attempting to cook) while living on my own for co-op, but oh man is it great to have home cooked meals every night.
  • We can focus literally 100% on our company – no need to worry about bills, driving, getting furniture etc. We wake up and code. 

I always hear that a potential drawback of following the entrepreneurial path is having to worry about forgone paychecks to cover cost of living. I can’t think of a more effective way to combat this at the college age then moving back home.

Bottom line for college entrepreneurs and recent graduates:

Give up your freedom and go live with your parents if it is a viable option in your family. Focus your time and energy on building something great.

The Power of Buying Lunch

One afternoon last year when I was on co-op at Cisco Systems, I went out to lunch with a few other co-ops to a Vietnamese restaurant. I had never tried Vietnamese food before, and the restaurant was a favorite of one of the interns going with us, who happened to be originally from Vietnam. 

The lunch was excellent and we all had a great time. At the end of the meal, I was surprised that the intern who suggested the restaurant graciously insisted on paying for everyone’s lunch. While it might be pretty standard for your boss to pick up the tab after lunch, it was different with a peer since the check is generally split.

So what happened? Well, to this day, I have not forgotten this gesture. It was so simple, and the total capital investment required was about $8. Yet it made such a deep impression. While he may not have thought of this at the time, he could end up getting a substantial ROI on that investment. Because of the impression he made on me, I would go out of my way to help this person – get him an interview, make a recommendation, etc.

Bottom line: it is surprising how powerful simple gestures of generosity can be. So next time the lunch bill comes, consider being generous and making that investment.

Take the Risk, Go for the Gold

The ability to focus in on your core competencies is a major asset. We all have multiple talents, commitments and activities. Some create a lot of value, while others do not. The goal (particularly on the business side of things) is to determine which activities create the most value and focus resources on those. Value could be happiness, money, whatever it means to you.

In response to my friend Drew D’Agostino’s recent blog post:

So Drew, to answer your question, YES, drop things that you have gotten out of practice with and aren’t truly passionate about anymore, even if they are making money. I recently left my web design business of 7 years that generated great revenue for a college kid to instead focus on a new tech start-up that statistics and probability say will fail. 

Never sit still. Take the risk, go for the gold. Don’t get caught up in the little wins, it’s the big ones that actually make an impact. Always consider, what is the worst case scenario? Maybe some lost time, lost money, so what? Think about the opportunities that have a time window – if the clock is ticking, grab them while you have the chance.

Dealing with Differences… in a Tent

I just returned from a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains where my friend from Duke and I camped for 4 days in the gracious mountains of Tennessee. No internet, no cell phone, and sadly, no showers. Of course aside from roasting marshmallows and hiking, there were some strong learning moments.

After spending 96 hours straight with this friend, we realized that we had quite a bit of conflicts in our value systems. Bluntly, I thought a lot of what he did was absolutely ridiculous, and he felt the same way about me. We each wanted the other to conform and do things “my way.”

After some arguing, I learned a very important lesson: what you think may make perfect sense in your mind, but someone else will look at it completely differently. While we may truly believe that our way is the right way, it is ineffective to tirelessly argue with others to change their ways. In fact, it just upsets and insults them.

Instead, I found it was much more effective to simply respect each others differences. Compromising and trying new things is a must, and doing so confirms what a person’s true passions and values are. We each watched and listened to each other, ultimately taking away new perspectives. In doing something like this, some people may end up adjusting their values by their own choice based on observations – this is the key!

Bottom Line:

Everyday, we encounter differences in values, principles and passions. Instead of always arguing with people to change, it is so much more effective to respect each others differences, learn from them and ultimately grow from understanding them.

Creative Populism

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