you create today may well be the basis
for enormous companies in the future.
So work harder now. Now is the time.
In a recession/depression, people need
new directions. They need new directions politically, and they need new directions scientifically. Open your mind
to new possibilities. Those possibilities
can take the world in new directions
that can enhance our lives economically, socially, and spiritually. Take a risk
when no one else is trying, and you can
set the path that others will follow for
generations to come.
Big ideas crop up when scientists,
engineers, entrepreneurs, and busi-nesspeople go after big problems. A
great entrepreneur with dedication,
passion, and a grand vision has a good
chance. Venture capital sees it over
and over. Sometimes it is a by-product
of taking a valuable first step. Sometimes the first step toward the grand
vision yields enormous value. For
example, yesterday’s entrepreneurs
sought the self-navigating cars and
made GPS navigation affordable and
accessible. Yesterday’s entrepreneurs
sought holo-decks and put virtual
meetings within reach of the broadband world.
Sometimes it involves an unexpected bonanza. That is because a grand
vision leads smart and dedicated entrepreneurs into new situations requiring novel solutions to challenging
problems. That gives serendipity a
chance to sparkle. What do electricity, penicillin, Velcro, Teflon, and microwave ovens have in common? They
were all unexpected bonanzas. So was
In 1996, I helped create an unexpected bonanza. An entrepreneurial
team (Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia)
came into DFJ with a proposal. They
wanted to try something new: free
Web-based email for the nascent and
growing Internet. But it needed a way
to attract new users. I recalled Tupper-ware’s marketing from a case in business school, where one friend invites
another. I suggested they put a line at
the bottom of their email that made it
easy for one friend to invite another.
That was the start of viral marketing.
Now viral marketing is standard practice for marketers everywhere.
Did we know it would work? We
had a hunch, but it was a new situa-
tion and a novel problem. We could
not be sure until a team of dedicated
entrepreneurs gave it a try. Entrepreneurs who pursue a mission can find
it leads to an unexpected bonanza.
Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia were on
a mission, which put me in a position
to enhance their vision, which in turn
drove a company to great heights.
Sometimes a third thing happens. Now and again, entrepreneurs
do get what they wish for. There is a
breakout winner that employs tens
of thousands of people with very little
investment dollars. It creates huge
value and huge economies. If you
are a technologist pursuing a vision,
be prepared for innovations on top
of your vision. The best technologies
have taken many paths to get to market success.
In the future I expect to see a lot of
valuable steps, unexpected bonanzas,
and breakout winners. In fact, I am
counting on it. Some recent investments of ours have brought on electric cars (Reva and Tesla), solar thermal generators (BrightSource), social
networking for the enterprise (
Social-Text), iPhone GPS apps, new ways of
communicating (Meebo), and nano
solar panels (Konarka). Who knows
what extraordinary businesses can be
created in the future.
That is my advice for entrepreneurs
in these times: If you take an entrepreneurial risk, make sure you go after
something big. Extend your imagination. Think flying and self-navigating
cars, holo-decks, brain enhancers, saltwater purifiers, fusion energy, and
I asked Warren Buffett what he thought
we needed to do to get out of this economic quagmire. He said, “Throw a
bunch of things up on the wall and see
what sticks.” He is absolutely right.
Any experiment could pull us out this
time too: A flying car, a cure for cancer, a better cellphone, brain-wave
communications, entertainment on
demand, fusion power, even a liquid stock market. Any of these could
generate extraordinary demand and
require a large work force.
Entrepreneurs and technologists will pull the economy out of
the downturn, just as the growth of
businesses around the Web pulled
us out of an economic funk in the
mid-1990s. Even if the businesses are
only reasonably successful, or even
if some of them fail, they move technology forward. They employ people.
They get things happening. Their energy begets other ideas.
This is not the common mantra
today. Bad news is good news to the
press. Recently, reporters have seemingly gleefully given one account
after another pointing toward an increasingly grim future. Companies
are laying people off, markets are
down worldwide, lending is frozen,
real-estate values have plummeted,
consumer and capital spending appears to have slowed, and investors
That misses the point. The future
rests—and has always rested—squarely
on the shoulders of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs create new jobs, they build
value from nothing, they make our lives
better, and they rebuild the economy.
It may sound contrarian, but it is
not. I travel all over the world. In China they’re thinking “opportunity” now.
Even in a down world economy they’re
thinking “where’s the opportunity?” I
see it elsewhere too—in Ireland, Israel,
Indonesia, and many other places.
Entrepreneurs with an intense dedication to what they are doing—one
that will overcome all odds—seek to
change the world. Their companies
offer significant improvements over
existing technology that could, if there
is a large enough market, change the
world. Eventually those entrepreneurs
will help the economy boom.
During every financial downturn,
from the Vienna stock exchange
crash in 1873 through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the cold war of
the 1950s, and the dot-com collapse
that occurred earlier this decade,
great entrepreneurs have embraced
change. That attitude drives innovation and the economy to new successes. This time is no different. There’s
nothing that can stop the true entrepreneur from changing the world.
If you are that true entrepreneur,
your time is now! Go for it!
Tim Draper ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder and a managing
director of Draper fisher Jurvetson in Menlo Park, Ca.