Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Kundun Moment

Last week an executive of a prominent internet company took stage in a prominent venue in San Francisco and laid out a product strategy that was identical to one I had penned one year ago.  He hailed this new platform as a vision of the future that would change the way all of us shop.  It took me back in time to my company's formation.  There were several product visions my colleagues and I had hatched over a few dinners and coffee/scotch sessions.  We filed several patent applications and began the search for engineers to develop our products.  We found one particular developer who had the requisite skills and had passion to realize our vision.  We disclosed everything about our platform concept.  Suddenly, with little explanation other than citing a conflict of interest, he bowed out of the project.   Unfortunately he had all the details of our product plan and marketing strategy and we had not yet put an NDA in place.  He hasn't returned emails since to inform us further on the development of his conflicting product.

The moment I heard the executive describing our product vision as his company's own, I felt the normal sinking feelings.  The circumstances of my experience with the engineer were so suspicious.  Of course I believed he had taken our ideas and presented them as his own to get hired into this company.  I realized that my competitor has much more resources than I did to bring the product to market swiftly.  In the moment that I realized that it might have been me on stage, announcing this product, I had a second realization.  In a sense it was me on stage, as I am a shareholder in his company!  This realization struck me like the moment in Martin Scorsese's film Kundun, where the Dalai Lama is able to understand with compassion the perspective of his Chinese attackers as they invade and overthrow his country.

Ideas and business models often do crop up simultaneously in isolation in Silicon Valley.  We're all exploring opportunities to address the same business needs of the market with many of the same approaches and tools.  Here entire business models do crop up like pre-Pasteur concepts of spontaneous generation.  It's just a matter of who can build them fastest. 

With this realization I am freed up to pursue other even larger opportunities that remain unsolved…

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