“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”
I love change.
From music to fashion, to technology to culture, I ‘ve always been drawn to what’s next. Excitedly building the future rather than trying to recreate the past.
I have written recently about lots of change happening in my work and have often been asked “what’s next” for me as an investor. Candidly, I’ve been agonizing over that latter question more than I’d like to admit.
With the end of Indie came the end of a years-long exploration of a narrow and exciting problem space. A big enough space to provide promising upside but constrained enough that it allowed me to tune out nearly everything else. The possibilities weren’t endless but they were endlessly exciting to me to explore.
In closing the chapter on Indie, it has opened me up to possibilities again in a way I haven’t experienced in my career. So much has changed since we started OATV 15 years ago, let alone since we launched Indie. It feels as though all the rules of early-stage investing are getting rewritten in real time and that kind of unbounded change is something I’m incredibly excited to be a part of. But, as I explore those possible futures, I keep coming back to the above Bezos quote as a reminder that the uncertainty that comes with unbounded possibilities for change have a counterbalance in the things that don’t.
As I navigate the changes in how I invest ahead, I’m reminded to anchor on those things that I won’t be changing; namely:
Watch and amplify the work of the alpha geeks
The A in OATV stands for Alpha. Not in the traditional financial used of the word, but in a fundamental insight my Partner Tim had in relation to his publishing business that translated into how we built our firm.
So often, signs of the future are all around us, but it isn’t until much later that most of the world realizes their significance. Meanwhile, the innovators who are busy inventing that future live in a world of their own. They see and act on premises not yet apparent to others. In the computer industry, these are the folks I affectionately call “the alpha geeks,” the hackers who have such mastery of their tools that they “roll their own” when existing products don’t give them what they need.
The alpha geeks are often a few years ahead of their time. They see the potential in existing technology, and push the envelope to get a little (or a lot) more out of it than its original creators intended. They are comfortable with new tools, and good at combining them to get unexpected results.
Whether it’s pushing the envelope on new models for funding or imaging earth, a recurring theme in my work as an investor is amplifying and supporting the work of founders living in, and building towards, inevitable futures.
Provide a counter-narrative to the startup monoculture
10 years ago I published a piece expressing fear of a looming startup monoculture. And while more money than ever is flowing into the startup ecosystem, the vast majority of that is flowing into the already proven and acceptable vs. the unexplored and historically overlooked. A decade later, there’s never been a greater need to expand the tent for founders of all backgrounds with the ambition to build venture-scale businesses.
Align with and advocate for the founders we back
The core ideas that drove Indie were not revenue shares and capped returns, those were simply our ham-fisted way of signaling to founders that they were in complete control of their optionality and cap tables. We wanted founders to bring their whole selves to the companies they were building without having to ask permission from anyone. The terms, stages and check sizes may change, but that ethos will always be central to how I work with founders.
Experiment with funding narratives, structures, and economics
As I wrote in my post about the Inevitabilities of Indie:
Venture firms and strategies are the perfect vehicles to create economies around. With cash from fees, equity from investments, and the emerging ecosystems around crypto, there’s a mirade of ways to activate the energy and experience of their communities that go far beyond Slack channels and sponsored dinners.
v1 of Indie barely scratched the surface of possible ways to rethink the narratives, structures, and economics of startup funding. Scouts, syndicates, SPVs, Angels, revenue shares, redemptions, crypto are just a few of the tools at our disposal today. Imagine what else we can create in the next 10 years! As noted above, the rules are getting rewritten in real time and I’m excited to continue adding to the canon.
Deliver exceptional returns to our LPs
As I continue my post-Indie walkabout, anchoring on the unchangeable, instead of the unbounded, has given me some much needed mooring in the midst of the choppy seas of change.