Crowd Funding, entrepreneurship, Rants

Crowd Funding as MVP

I recently posted a rant my thoughts about the current trolling in the crowd funding discourse, and in the discussion that ensued on Facebook, Lukas Imrich shared a video interview which made me think and reflect some more. I’ve attached it below. Watch it for yourself.

I have the greatest respect for Mark Suster as an entrepreneur and investor. I really treasure his insights. I also have great respect for the theories and methodologies of “competing against non-consumption and “jobs to be done” of Clayton M. Christensen. I teach them to startup founders and corporations.

Let me be crystal clear: When I talk about the benefits of crowd funding for bootstrapping and validation, I’m talking only about crowd funding without selling equity.

I argue selling your actual product or service is a great way to bootstrap and validate your business, in effect using crowd funding as a channel for taking pre-orders.

I make a clear distinction between trying to crowd fund an idea or a vision and crowd funding a real product or service. That is to say, I think there is a real difference between selling your product or service (asking in effect the market to pay for it and help you validate if they will buy it) as the reward or perk you offer instead of offering ephemeral perks and rewards not directly related to your product or service (which will not help you validate if people will buy it).

Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” -Henry Ford

“Disruption happens when companies use technology to help customers “achieve what they already had been trying to do.”” -Clayton Christensen

The theory simply asks, “What job your product is hired to do?” And if you want your customers to switch products you need to ask, “Why would they ‘fire’ the other product and ‘hire’ yours?”

Competing Against Non-Consumption (disruptive innovation)

True disruption occurs when companies compete against non-consumption. “A new-market disruption is an innovation that enables a larger population of people, who previously lacked the money or skill, now to begin buying and using a product and doing the job for themselves,” – Clayton M. Christensen.

If you’re an upstart chasing after the non-consumer, the great news is that your audience is non-discriminating. They want something easy to use and they want it cheap. They’re not expecting that same level of quality and performance. “Because,” says Clayton M. Christensen, “something is so much better than nothing.”
(Business Innovation Factory, 30.01.2006)

I think it’s obvious that Crowd Funding fits the properties of a disruptive innovation and I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise.

However, (or perhaps not that surprising as Suster is already vested in the world view of the incumbent as a VC) Suster and Christensen seem to ignore the disruptive power of crowd funding as seen from the side of the table of the entrepreneur.

I sense the classic argument we always hear from the incumbents in the talk between Suster and Christensen: It always seem to revert to the argument of quality – as if that is all there would be too it.

We’ve heard this before.

Remember the records industry? “Who would like mp3 files when you can have quality audio on CDs?” Turns out the story was rather people want the freedom of choice to select just the good songs without the 10 other crap fillers on a CD, and would quite eagerly sacrifice audio quality for the ability – hence Napster was wildly successful, hence they sued Napster out of the world BUT without taking over the space of Napster, still not recognizing what people want, what the new opportunity offered them.

And we’ve seen how this turned out before.

Instead of seizing the opportunity for themselves, iTunes, Last FM, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora et al came in and screwed the records industry out of the opportunity – and no one was sorry for their loss but themselves.

And it’s the same old story, same old arguments which are today being bandied about in the discourse about with Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but that’s a different albeit highly related discussion. Check out Clay Shirky’s post on MOOCs for more on that topic.

Christensen teaches us about the concepts of “jobs to be done” and “competing against non-consumption”. As far as I can tell, Crowd Funding without selling equity is doing both for the entrepreneur very well.

To the best of my knowledge, crowd funding without selling equity is:

  1. Getting the job done for entrepreneurs of getting early stage funding, or perhaps more precisely validating their product in the marketplace (explicitly or implicitly) without substantial financial risks and without taking a lot of time producing something first that perhaps the market doesn’t want (negating risk and time to market or failure for the entrepreneurs).
  2. Enabling entrepreneurs that otherwise would not get the attention – let alone the funding – of a VC, bank or angel, effectively competing against non-consumption (lower barrier to entry for entrepreneurs).
  3. A highly valid MVP (Minimal Viable Product) when used correctly.

As an entrepreneur, you no longer have to ask the incumbent private equity gatekeepers for permission to play. You now have the option to walk it alone.

If you fail, there’s little to no downside. It’s a learning experience. You’ve only lost face. Get used to it! Now pick yourself up and play again. And again.

If you’re successful, maybe you won’t even need an investor at all for scaling or at least you’ll have revenue from sales as a bargaining chip to get the term sheet you want.

Am I saying that the VCs will go the way of the Dodo? No. The way of the record companies? Most likely.

VCs will have their place and will still be a highly valid or even the only right play for some types of ventures, just like the elite schools of Stanford and Harvard will not go out of business because of MOOCs.

I am saying that crowd funding without selling equity is a powerful disruptive tool for entrepreneurs.

It is enabling many more entrepreneurs to succeed that wouldn’t otherwise be able to play.

And it will enable many more entrepreneurs to FAIL – and fast, before they have spent all their savings, bet the barn, lost their spouse and spent a good part of their life building something that no one wants.

And that’s all good:

For the VCs that will be able to fund more validated businesses and proven entrepreneurs instead of throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks (perhaps at the cost of less proprietary deal-flow).

For the entrepreneurs that get to play without asking for permission and again and again ad infinitum with little or no cost and risk to learn, learn, learn.

And for the world that will hopefully see more value generated, more new jobs as a result of the lower barriers to entry for more people.

Do listen to anybody that tries to tell you otherwise – just don’t take their advice. You no longer need their permission. JFDI.