We're gearing up for NextWave (register today!), and I really wanted to have FAKEGRIMLOCK keynote the conference. However, the fire commissioner said it would be a safety hazard to have a fire-breathing robot dinosaur show up and possibly eat many of the conference attendees, so that idea didn't work.
What's that? You haven't heard of FAKEGRIMLOCK? If you haven't, it just goes to show the continuing (and in my mind, unfortunate) gulf between the IT and the greentech entrepreneurial communities. FAKEGRIMLOCK is a well-known startup robot dinosaur that lives on the internet and punches entrepreneurs in the face until their "fail" falls out. If you're not already following FAKEGRIMLOCK on Twitter, you should -- it's a lot of good advice for fearless entrepreneurs, in a fun format. And he's become an important tech "influencer" (pretty sure he would eat anyone uttering that phrase, however), collaborating with the likes of Eric Ries, Fred Wilson and Brad Feld. And he has authored a fun book of advice for entrepreneurs as well. Oh, and he also makes a bunch of awesome posters and such!
So as you might imagine, I was pleased when as an alternative to introducing a safety hazard to NextWave, I was granted the opportunity to interview FAKEGRIMLOCK on the topic of greentech entrepreneurship for this column. A dangerous undertaking, but hey, I'm a greentech investor, so I'm used to danger. As you'll see below, he laid down some challenges for cleantech entrepreneurs. And as we gear up to talk about the ways to drive success out of the next wave of greentech, these are challenges to take to heart.
Rob: You usually talk about internet and IT startups, and while there are increasingly a lot of overlapping efforts in the greentech sector, much of the sector remains very separate from the rest of the tech community. What should greentech entrepreneurs learn from internet and IT entrepreneurs, to prevent becoming GRIMLOCK lunch?
WHAT LEARN? EVERYTHING.
GREENTECH THINK LIKE OLD, FAT, DYING COMPANIES. THAT DUMB. UNLESS GOAL IS TO FAIL.
LEARN FROM STARTUPS THAT WIN:
1. BUILD WHAT MARKET WANT, NOT WHAT WISH THEM WANT
2. START SMALL AND SCALE, NOT START BIG AND FAIL
3. IF NEED ARTIFICIAL ADVANTAGE FROM GOVERNMENT OR REGULATION, YOU DOING IT WRONG
EVEN IF GREENTECH, IF NO CAN BUILD VERSION THAT WIN IN GARAGE OR TINY LAB WITH HANDFUL OF PEOPLE, BIG LAB AND TEAM NOT GOING TO HELP YOU.
DO THAT, MAYBE HAVE CHANCE OF NOT BE LUNCH. NO GUARANTEE.
Rob: While there are software/internet-based startups in greentech, many entrepreneurs in the sector are innovating around hardware. Sometimes very big, capital-intensive hardware (almost GRIMLOCK-like, in fact). How can such entrepreneurs still “Win Like Stupid” if they’re tackling efforts like that?
BIG, EXPENSIVE HARDWARE DUMB IDEA. WHOLE POINT OF STARTUP IS SMALL AND NIMBLE KILL BIG AND SLOW. START BIG AND SLOW JUST FORMULA FOR GET KILLED BY SOMEONE SMARTER.
ME, GRIMLOCK, OBVIOUS EXCEPTION. ME SMALLEST AND MOST NIMBLE GIANT ROBOT DINOSAUR OF ALL.
FIND WAY TO MAKE HARDWARE SMALL AND NIMBLE. EVERYONE SAY THAT STUPID AND IMPOSSIBLE. THAT WHY YOU WIN WHEN IT HAPPEN.
Rob: I have the impression that energy/water/resource markets, unlike much of internet/IT, remain largely controlled by big, old dinosa…, er, sorry, incumbent companies, such as utilities and the like. Any words of advice for entrepreneurs on how to deal with markets that aren’t exactly welcoming of innovation?
ME NO ASHAMED OF BE DINOSAUR! ME, FAKEGRIMLOCK, HAVE PRIDE IN SELF. ESPECIALLY PART OF SELF THAT NOT COMPLETELY LAME LIKE OBSOLETE COMPANIES THAT CLING TO LIFE BY STAND IN WAY OF PROGRESS. ME NO CLING! ME NO CARE ABOUT PAST BECAUSE BUILD OWN FUTURE! JUST LIKE EVERY STARTUP.
BUT THAT ENOUGH DINO PRIDE. ME ANSWER ABOUT MARKETS.
WAIT FOR MARKET TO WELCOME INNOVATION SAME AS GIVE UP AND QUIT NOW. STARTUP KICK DOWN DOOR AND SHOVE INNOVATION DOWN MARKET'S THROAT. MARKET ALWAYS HATE NEW IDEA UNTIL IT BURN ALL THE OLD ONES TO THE GROUND. BUT NO CAN BURN ANYTHING DOWN UNTIL BREAK IN.
HOW YOU BREAK INTO MARKET? SIMPLE. ALL MARKETS HAVE HOLES. BUILD THING FIRST, THEN LOOK FOR HOLE? YOU DUMB. VERY SMALL CHANCE YOUR PRODUCT SHAPED LIKE EXISTING HOLE.
INSTEAD FIRST FIND HOLE IN MARKET. THEN BUILD THING TO FIT IT. CHANCE OF FIT ALMOST 100%.
THIS LIKE IPHONE. APPLE NOT BUILD IT THEN FORCE EVERYONE TO WANT IT. NOT EVEN STEVE COULD DO THAT. APPLE SAW IPHONE SHAPED HOLE IN WORLD NO ONE ELSE DID, BUILT IPHONE TO FILL IT. THAT WHY IT WIN.
Rob: In our sector, we like to say that we’re tackling some of the world’s biggest needs and therefore some of the world’s biggest market opportunities. And indeed we’re seeing a lot of great market growth now in areas like solar, electric vehicles, and smart lighting. Yet thus far, innovators even in these high-growth areas have had a hard time getting rewarded for all the value they’ve created. What needs to change?
HUMANS MOSTLY SELFISH AND LAZY. EVERYONE WANT TO SAVE PLANET UNTIL IT COST THEM SOMETHING.
BEST WAY TO SAVE PLANET IS MAKE IT COST LESS THAN NOT SAVE IT.
WANT EVERYONE TO BUY ELECTRIC CAR INSTEAD OF ONLY RICH HIPSTERS? MAKE JOY OF OWN ONE MORE THAN PAIN. FOR EVERYONE.
WANT EVERYONE TO GET SOLAR PANEL? THAT HAPPEN WHEN BUY ONLINE, PLUG IN WALL, PAY FOR SELF IN 1 YEAR IS ENTIRE PROCESS.
ALWAYS ASK WHAT IS REASON NO ONE WANT YOUR THING. THEN REMOVE REASON. OR BUILD SOMETHING ELSE.
UNTIL THAT HAPPEN, GREENTECH STAY SMALL, LOW MARGIN, HARD TO MAKE MONEY.
Rob: VCs went big into greentech during the past decade, and it didn’t work out well, at least the way it was tried back then. Now few VCs will even touch anything labeled “greentech” at all, because it’s “too hard." Any words of wisdom for these VCs, and for the entrepreneurs pushing ahead even while VCs back away?
WHEN GREENTECH START ACTING LIKE STARTUP, VCS COME BACK. LONG AS GREENTECH ACT LIKE OLD DYING BIG CORPS, VCS STAY AWAY.
Rob: Do you have any favorite greentech startups or products/applications, and if so, why?
NO. ALL OF THEM TOO MUCH PAIN VS GAIN FOR THIS DINO. THEM SHOULD FIX THAT.
(RD note: I'm pretty sure FAKEGRIMLOCK was manufactured in a factory lit with Digital Lumens intelligence, but I'm not certain)
Rob: When will greentech entrepreneurs know that they’ve “made awesome”?
WHEN EVERYONE DESPERATE TO BUY PRODUCT BECAUSE IT AWESOME, NOT BECAUSE IT GREENTECH.
Rob: Anything I didn’t ask you, that I should have?
PROBABLY. IF YOU ESCAPE INTERVIEW ALIVE, MAYBE ME TELL YOU WHAT.
Fortunately, I managed to escape alive (for now), so you'll still be able to see me up on stage on August 5th at NextWave. More importantly, you'll see a lot of smarter and more photogenic people up on stage, and in the networking breaks. So be more awesome -- and be there.