AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Simultaneous Discovery

The Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age) lasted roughly from 2.5M to 10,000 years ago. During this time humans moved around in small bands as hunter/gatherers. Sometime around the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age) humans invented or discovered farming. While turning unedible crops like wheat into food is impressive, what’s even more impressive is that humans separately invented farming at least three times and possibly as many as seven times. Different civilizations from Eastern Mediterranean to China to Mexico all came up with the idea of farming, presumably without sharing this knowledge in any way.

While the discovery of farming might seem an evolutionary necessity for long term survival the coincidental simultaneous invention by disparate individuals is apparently not uncommon at all.  In 1611, sun spots were discovered at least four different times, in 1869 both Cros and du Hauron invented color photography, and one that you might be more familiar with the invention of the phone by Bell, Gray, and la Cour to name a few of the individuals involved.  Napier and Briggs are credited with logarithms but Burgi also invented them a few years earlier.  Another popular one is the theory of natural selection being developed independently but simultaneously by Wallace and Darwin. There are so many of these simultaneous discoveries or inventions that William F. Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas published a paper “Are Inventions Inevitable? A Note on Social Evolution” in 1922 that documented 148 of these simultaneous discoveries.

No one is really sure why this happens. Some believe in a sort of efficient-market hypothesis, which in financial markets means that information is ubiquitous and therefore you cannot consistently beat the market because everyone knows the same information almost simultaneously. Ogburn and Thomas postulated in their paper that because there are very few completely new discoveries, most inventions are inevitable.  Inventions are built on top of other inventions such as the steam boat being dependent on boats and steam engines being invented prior.

While a curiosity, you’re probably wondering how this applies to hyper growth startups. The key takeaway is that while you’re coming up with a great idea so is everyone else. The ability to iterate quickly on ideas is more critical than ever. Combine this absolute need for quick iterations with the requirement for measuring results of effort, lest it be completely wasted and you have A/B testing on features that are launched in weekly sprints. SaaS companies have no excuse for not releasing in very short sprints (if not continuously), watching user behavior to learn what works and what doesn’t, then iterating again.

Despite the plethora of articles and books to the contrary, there are very few million dollar ideas, just million dollar executions of ideas. If investors are looking for key attributes about a team that make them more likely to succeed or not, I’d suggest looking for a team that can deliver quickly and knows the importance of measuring success.


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