Bill Warner On Startups

This week I got to meet Bill Warner and hear his philosophy about entrepreneurship at a sparkcloud open door event.  I came away pretty impressed, Bill flips the conventional startup model on its head.

Bill's ideas originate from his experience in founding two companies.  The first, Avid, returned 30x to the original investors.  The second, Wildfire, returned 4x to the original investors.  He draws some useful conclusions from what what went right and wrong at each company.

Doing it right:  Avid

Bill came up with the idea for Avid to help a specific group of people — video editors who were trying to tell a story.  As he built the company, they stayed true to this vision for 'his people' which led to adoption by Hollywood video editors.  The most famous user was James Cameron, who joined the editors guild to use the Avid system and went on to win an Oscar for editing "Titanic".

Doing it wrong:  Wildfire

Bill's original concept for Wildfire was to help people to connect by phone through a presence-based phone network.  When this original idea failed to get VC funding, he allowed the product to morph into something more appealing to investors — an 'electronic secretary' to screen and manage incoming calls.  The original dream of connecting people was betrayed, and the company joke became that Wildfire spouses wouldn't touch the product because it de-personalized phone communication.

My takeaways are:

Mothers teach their children to 'follow their hearts'.  That means using the right brain, not the rational left brain to which we usually attribute business and financial success.

Focus on 'your people'.  Determine the type of person you really want to help and never let go of who they are.

Use words to describe your business such as 'Believe' and 'Intend' to stay focused on the people you want to serve.  The technology 'Invention' is also important, but only if it fulfills the overall mission.

While there are many ways to start financially successful companies which don't involve the heart, Bill's philosophy can increase the odds of success while making the experience more exciting and rewarding.

Bill also gave a tour of the Anything Goes space within the CIC and held an impromptu brainstorming session about how it will be organized.  Sounds like an excellent idea to support the Boston startup community.