What I Learned from Ding Dong
I’ve been at betaworks for over a year now. With Josh and John’s guidance, I oversee our seed investing activity, where I’ve gone from complete noob to moderate noob. Since I started we’ve made 21 investments in new companies. The transition from builder to investor has been fascinating, damn fun, and at times downright bizarre. For the first six months, for all sorts of reasons and biases, I basically had to dismantle how I have traditionally viewed products and people (another post). Only recently have I begun to rebuild a more productive process through which to formulate opinions on the products, companies and entrepreneurs we meet. My goal is to share these views more often, mostly so that we may have constructive discussions, which I hope will continue to force my learning process.
As you might have guessed, this post is about what I learned from Ding Dong and other products like it. We are not (yet) investors, but in the time I’ve known the founders I’ve learned more from them than they from me, often the case in my job, which is why I love doing it.
Ciaran O’Leary, a friend and investor in Berlin, showed me the app a few months ago, the conversation went something like this:
@ciaranoleary: hey check out dingdong in the app store… real time social / sharing networking… kinda interesting… good guys from the netherlands moving to berlin
@nchirls: Just tried it, but I don’t get it?
Two months later, I get it. And the road from there to here has been a slap in the face. A few things I’ve learned along the way and have since vowed to protect … really these are lessons I constantly remind my future self:
Every time, really, every single time, look at a product with new eyes. This is harder than it sounds. It requires that you beat the shit out of past grudges, biases, and perceptions. In fact, remove any thought of what you might think about the “space.” There is time for that later, but don’t think about the market just yet (another post), it’s a boring and unjust way to look at new things.
Look at the product. Close your eyes and try to imagine the world a few years from now with this new thing in it. You won’t always see it, but look for it anyway.
Form an opinion over time, but definitely form an opinion. What the hell do you think? Look at the product, put it away for a few days, and then come back to it. Is it still exciting? Have you been thinking about it when you go to sleep at night? Are you up at 2am writing notes about it? Find a way to weave it into your life.
Show it to friends and people whose product opinion you trust. But have your own opinion going in. Don’t let them formulate your opinion for you, but allow them shape it. Argue about it. You’ll learn more this way.
Spend time (if possible) with the product before you speak with the founders, but don’t allow your opinion of it to ruin what they might be building for in the future. Yeah, it’s buggy, get over it. What does their view of the future look like? Does it fit with your vision and the vision for the product?
I’ll be the first one to say that in my first few months at this, I operated scared. What will John or Josh think about it? What do other investors think about it? What will my father think of it (sorta kidding, but not really)? This is the worst and most debilitating way to operate and invest.
Don’t get me wrong, having good partners as co-investors is crucial, we couldn’t do what we do without them. But ultimately, forming one’s own opinion is everything. Conviction is everything, and not many investors have it. I’m working on it. If in the end people think you’re crazy, you’re probably doing a bunch of things right.