The Problem with Seeing the Future

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. Jonathan Swift

The world is full of doubters. it’s hard to do a startup when you are doing something no one has done before, without much money, without enough experience and with the odds stacked vastly against you. Don’t feel sorry for entrepreneurs – especially today where everyone wants entrepreneurs and startups to succeed – but it’s still a lesson in perseverance.

The hardest thing about a startup is that fine line between vision and delusion. It’s one that the best entrepreneurs walk across often – back and forth as the hours and minutes go by – but never fully confident of which side you’ll end on. You are seeing the future if you are an entrepreneur; knowing (confidently as you can) how the world will one day be. Even uber guru Steve Blank describes startups as “faith-based initiatives.”

But seeing the future doesn’t come with depth perception.

And that’s why it’s so damn difficult. The best entrepreneurs have enough information, experience, gut and guile to know what is coming (or at least you have faith in that future). Steve Jobs saw a future state of computing and mobile devices. Bill Gates knew the operating system would be commonplace. Michael Dell saw electronics retail changing. Jack Dorsey saw a future state of communication and payments (I specifically recall a dinner with some successful entrepreneurs who were commenting on how it was ludicrous that ‘the guy who only talks in 140 characters is taking on Visa’.) But that’s what entrepreneurs do – they have a vision and see the future, then try and make a company to fit that future. You connect the dots, read the tea leaves and know what’s ahead. The problem is it could be six months, two years or (gasp) ten years. That’s why vision – or seeing the future – is such a blessing and a curse.

Once you’ve seen it, the best entrepreneurs can’t shake that vision they’ve seen. With Zaarly, I can describe as clear as day what a future state looks like with mobile phones and human commerce. It’s going to be awesome – trust me, I’ve seen it. But the when… well, that’s where things get tough. All the pieces are lined up for it, smart phones, data speeds, ubiquity of information, real-time, blah blah blah… but do those pieces coalesce in the right order, the right product, the right steps or even ever coalesce? That’s vision. It’s scary as hell and people will throw rocks at it. BUT, it’s also required to make something awesome.

Again, I’m confident those pieces will eventually coalesce to make that future happen… but I’m betting on the when. It turns out vision is a must-have for a startup company founder – an absolute. The best ones are really good at knowing the winds that are at their back and figuring out how to build something that lines up with the 400 things that need to go right. The rest of us… well, it’s a bit of a dance back and forth across that vision-delusion line. Vision plus patience mixed with impatience is what you need. Seems odd yet obvious… If you haven’t had to stare at the ceiling late at night and honestly ask yourself if that future is sixty days or sixty months, then you haven’t really had the entrepreneur’s journey.

In the end, don’t doubt based on what the doubters say. I trust you – if you’ve done your homework, you most likely can see the future. What none of us quite know is the when.

Turns out seeing the future just doesn’t come with depth perception. Just need the right mix of patience plus impatience – as crazy as that sounds.

 
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