What and who is inspiring? Inspiring are the future and someone bold enough to take an attempt to imagine the future, even when the current technology or the en vogue business models do not align. Others are inspired to follow by someone who is determined to sail into the unknown and appears to have a map of the unknown or even better to have the ability to draw one up while sailing, even when there is little behind that verve other than mission, determination, and a willingness to be foolish. These destinations are not in the tangible world yet, but in the founder’s mind.
To tap into this as founders, we need to step back before starting work on the product itself to imagine the future. You need to disassociate yourself from the present, and focus on what the problem is, and how it’s solvable in the ideal world, unbounded by technology limitations, money, or time. If you have a vision that is outrageous, it’s linked to a massive problem, which is going to be around a while and is not immediately solvable. But you can imagine what a solution would look like in your ideal form.
Fred Wilson, in a post yesterday, calls this: having a long product roadmap, and recounts something Dennis Crowley said to him in an interview on Friday. I excerpt Fred:
But this post is about something Dennis said about product roadmaps that really struck me. Dennis said that all the way back to Dodgeball, the predecessor company to Foursquare, he and Alex had a roadmap for the product that was years ahead of what they could actually build. When Dennis and Naveen decided to start building Foursquare, Dennis pulled out that roadmap and updated it to reflect the power of modern smartphones. And that roadmap goes way out, well beyond what Foursquare is today or what it will be in a year from now.
That is the power of a visionary founder leading a team to build the things that are only in his or her mind. I recall Mark Pincus, in the early days of Zynga, tell me about a game he wants to build someday. Zynga still has not released that game. When Jack Dorsey came back to Twitter, he said he was finally going to build Twitter 1.0. Think about that. And think about what Twitter 5.0 is in Jack’s mind.
You should start in this way. You should not censor yourself as you imagine what is possible, even if its years ahead. You can keep re-imagining as capabilities change, stretching your imagination further. That type of vision inspires both you and others. It’s also part of why Fred and other VCs look for entrepreneurs who have been obsessed with a problem forever; it’s an indication that they are obsessed with a massive problem and focused on solving it for the long haul rather than the quick hit.
But then how do you actually start building something in the present. Fred has a gem in the comments:
[Y]our first release should be a super tiny part of your overall vision designed to get you into the market. [M]y partner Brad talks about the “narrow point of the wedge”. you can drive that into a piece of wood. but you can’t drive a brick into a piece of wood.
You need to take a way to find that first step, even if it’s a baby step in the direction of Vision 5.0. My view is that the baby step, is not a throwaway – it’s also absolutely critical to get it right. This is where the lessons of stripping something down to create something magical, sexy, obsessive, irresistible comes into play. See this post and others under the Design tag.