Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Notice that I filed this post under VC and Technology, not Politics.

That’s because I am going to refrain from talking about the ridiculous notion that man was "designed intellgently" that many in this country seem to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.

But this is really about startups and how they get built.

For years, I have been fascinated by the fact that many of the very best startup companies come out of "side projects". They are accidents really.  eBay, Google, and Yahoo! are all examples of this mode of starting companies.  Delicious was born this way.  One of my favorite web services, Sitemeter, started this way.  So did Vimeo.  I could go on and on, but like a Oscar speech, I need to stop. Sorry to all the "side project" startups I left off this list.

Brad and I have been seeing a lot of "one man bands" as well lately.  Companies that have been single handedly started by one person with some outsourced development.  These people see something they’d like to have and they build it.  And all of a sudden, they are in our office with a pitch deck and the need for money to turn the thing they’ve built into a company.

So I was at breakfast a couple weeks ago with Nick Denton and we got to talking about this phenomenon.  So Nick says, "it’s the evolution vs intelligent design debate".  And I about choked on my really great full english breakfast (which is not dead and is alive and well at the Coffee Shop in Union Square in NYC).

Nick is right, there are two ways to build a company.

You can design it from scratch, figuring out exactly what you want to build, getting it all down on paper, raising some money, and then building it.  And there are plenty of success stories for that way of building a company.

Or you can just find yourself doing a startup because something you started as a hobby, or to serve your own needs, just took on a life of its own and you have no choice but to evolve it into a business.

We don’t have a preference for one way or the other, but I will say that there is something particularly special about the companies that are created via the evolution approach.

They seem more "authentic", to borrow a word from David Beisel.

There is so much more that can be done with this line of thinking, but I am going to stop here. This may become a series of posts where I talk about various differences between building evolved companies versus designed companies.  Or maybe others in the VC/entrepreneur world will pick up on this "meme" and run with it, which would be awesome.

I want to thank Nick for putting this idea into my brain. I’ve enjoyed thinking about it.  I hope you do too.