Startups: Using the Insight of 20-20 Hindsight

Back in 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

That was also the year that Mel Epstein, then the Director of Promotions for the New York radio station WNEW, coined the now iconic the phrase “It’s 10 PM … Do you know where your children are?”

Fifty years later, that phrase is still used at many radio and TV stations around the country.

I met Mel while working for a mutual client in Carmel by the Sea some decades back. One of the defining moments that ultimately lead to how I am building my startup was when Mel, in his MENSA wisdom, said “Hindsight is 20-20. So immerse yourself in your envisioned future, then look “back” with 20-20 vision, and draw the roadmap that took you there”.

At the time, I though Mel may have just come from a Kum ba yah party at some Nepenthe or Big Sur commune, discounted his musings, and went about my business. But that day began slowly seeping into my entrepreneurial consciousness.

I believe that there are fundamentally two kinds of startup companies: a) those founded on a genesis of a “good idea” product that plans to chase an immediately inevitable market (call that a V.2 market of the V.1 market that sparked the idea), and b) those founded on clarity of a future vision, which then plan out a G2 product roadmap that will lead to their envisioned market dominance.

Now, the dynamics for growth companies are completely different, so I’m not addressing those.

The first company type takes the excited, urgency-based view of the opportunity, and prematurely rushes to market with B-grade products. The second strategically analyzes 3 to 5 year trajectories of technology, economic, political, and social trends, and works patiently to launch a future product generation that “heads them off at the pass”.

I was firmly intrenched PCAM mode (Products Chasing a Market). My product concepts, though innovative and ultimately patented, targeted immediate market opportunities. My inability to see significant industry and market movements far in advance that lead to closing two of my PCAM companies.

The first was a syringe and phlebotomy product startup (med-tech). Following the AIDS ground zero discovery, infected needles poking through trash bags were literally killing hospital workers. I developed the first single-hand operated anti-stick syringe in the world (patents are among the most ever cited), but I naively failed to understand the regulatory and predatory dynamics of the big medical device companies, the CDC and WHO. My access to market vanished, but the benevolent effort lead to a lot of litigation expert witness work against the syringe manufacturers that declined acquiring my technology.

At about the same time, Winchester disk drives were yielding to 5-1/4 floppies, and they were already yielding to 3-1/2 in floppies. My high density drive connectors, designed to address the 5-1/4 floppy market, simply couldn’t downsize to fit the 3-12 in drives. The market moved, and I didn’t see out far enough.

Then I met Mel … a virtual optometrist who sharpened my business vision.

Fast forward to Unicorn, Inc. For the past three years, after discovering the future convergence of our targeted product and technology trajectories, I’ve been able to look back with 20-20 vision – Mel’s hindsight insight. It’s a lot easier for me to fill in the 3-5 years between now and then, now that I understand where the industry and business will be in 3 years.

This time, the corporate roadmap has been strategically developed, with dozens of patents that lay the groundwork for OUR competitive market positioning. And a protected position first-mover company is a high value target for acquirers.

Fortunately, hindsight insight coincides with my lucid dream, combinatorial creativity that synergistically support Unicorn’s end game.