A few weeks ago, I heard a man who said something of the following:
I had an idea some years back. It was the idea that one could call a cab via their web browser while they were getting ready for work or a few minutes before leaving their office for a meeting. From there, as they hopped out of the cab, with a push of a button, the rider’s credit card, which was saved on our platform, would pay for that ride. Sound familiar?
That man blamed the market conditions and alleged that the world just wasn’t ready for such a product.
I would submit that even if the man built the app, it wouldn’t have blown up as Uber did. In fact, even if the man created the app on the same day, I would submit that Uber would have exploded and that other app would have been cast to the wayside fairly quickly. The reason I say this is because, well, first of all, Travis and Garrett actually built the product out. An entrepreneur doesn’t just verbalize ideas; no, she becomes obsessed with the idea enough to do what it takes to build out the product and then evaluate market conditions and other factors.
The biggest reason for all this, however, is that Travis and Garrett built out Uber beautifully but they needed to surround themselves with some ridiculous talent to build it out and take it to another level. I am astounded by the mental capacity it must take for a founder to conceptualize his product and scale it to a widespread degree—and I speak as one from the outside looking in. There are so many factors that come into play when creating a product that it’s not just about the concept of the product but everything that surrounds it. People forget this.
I was inspired to write how I felt about this because as I was coming home from work on November 7, when Twitter went public, I overheard a teenage kid on the bus talking with a few of his friends. They were all on their phones while simultaneously having a fluid conversation. One of the boys shared what a mutual friend of theirs had posted on Twitter. Another mentioned that Twitter went public. And then the boy quipped, “Man, I could have built Twitter yesterday.”
My initial reaction was to actually put myself back in 2007. I was somewhat fluid in HTML and I dabbled with PHP and Java. I could have mocked up a version one of twttr. I could have thrown it up and blasted it all over my college campus and the streets of New York City. I imagined it as realistically as I possibly could but I probably wouldn’t have been able to move further from the prototype. The marketing, the product evolution, the design, the management, the talent, the partnerships, and the vision that drove all of those built $TWTR.
There’s also the learning curve that founders go through. At least from the few that I’ve spoken with personally, founders unanimously admit having no idea what they were doing—even if it were the second or third company that they were founding. How founders respond to the successes and the failures are key and there never is a “right” way to respond to them. How they respond to each of them, however, shifts the trajectory of the company. Noah Glass, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and Jack Dorsey have pulled the company to where it is unique from what anyone else would have done in the same situations—anyone else. There’s no one way to make a company successful (and many others could have made Twitter blow up in an equally successful, yet different, way) but it’s worth appreciating this story.
Even if I had started at the same time and there was no competition, even if I had a healthy seed round, even if I put my blood sweat and tears into it, I am incredibly doubtful I could have built Twitter. Do I believe I can ever build something on the scale of Twitter? Sure, of course I do—I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could. But do I think I could have built Twitter? Probably not.
To be fair, this kid was in high school. And if probability serves me right, he probably didn’t even know how exactly his computer connected to the Internet. He just hooked his router up to the wall and typed in his wifi password. But I think the term “Rome wasn’t built in a day” became such a cliche that we forget exactly what that means.