Dear Fred

I get so many emails from people who are thinking of starting a company and they share their idea with me and ask me if they should do it. They want my feedback on their idea. These are, for the most part, people I have never met and have no context for. I came across five of them this morning in my inbox. It reminded me of this tweetstorm from last year.


I understand the need for validation. And part of me wants to tell them “go for it.” I would like to see more people get up the nerve to chase their dreams. But I don’t want to be complicit in that. So most of the time, I just delete the email and move on. Sad, but true.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Some (less experienced) entrepreneurs think that if a VC likes their idea, then they will invest in it.

    1. fredwilson

      I understand that and it’s yet another reason to avoid encouraging them

      1. TeddyBeingTeddy

        “Don’t feed the bears”. Good advice for boy scouts and for VCs.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      Many VC Web sites are really good, and likely deceptive and irresponsible, in encouraging just this thought.For entrepreneurs who still have yet to send 100 messages to VC firms, a simple, first-cut description of an information technology (IT) VC early stage investment is: An IT product or service, running, deployed, with users, and with traction significant and growing very rapidly for a huge market and with little or nothing wrong otherwise and with the founders willing to sign a standard term sheet. The VC is basically making a financial investment in an asset that, just from some numbers that can be audited, is close also to being financial.E.g., it is easy to suspect that, for a VC to evaluate the core technology, the intellectual property, the idea, the business, just look at the traction — significant and growing rapidly for a huge market.Common advice to entrepreneurs is, by the time you have what the VCs want, they will call you.So, one lesson: To get to where you have what the VCs want, there’s little chance of using VC funding to get there. So, basically you need to pick a project you can get to what VCs want using just other funding, maybe just your own. And, right, then there is a chance that with that much traction you will already have enough revenue not to need VC equity funding.Uh, pizza shops don’t get equity funding and still do get success, and you can go a very long way in writing software for less capex than for a pizza shop, auto repair shop, dentist’s office, etc. Even a grass mowing service can use a mower for $13,000, a trailer for, maybe $4000, a truck for $30,000, plus a few thousand more for weed trimmers, blowers, tools, etc. Heck, for software, $1000 for a computer and an Internet connection can go a long way. If grass mowing startups can be successful without equity funding, then why not an IT startup?

      1. Adam Sher

        “Common advice to entrepreneurs is, by the time you have what the VCs want, they will call you.”Money

  2. pointsnfigures

    The tweetstorm is great advice.

  3. William Mougayar

    How about if the entrepreneur is set on their idea, and are a firm believer of it, and have started to implement it, but their email is asking for advice on a specific aspect of it- does that raise your attention/response level?

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      …. Waiting for fred to answer πŸ™‚

    2. Richard

      Test it

    3. Jess Bachman

      It’s still kind of rude. Like asking Lebron to take a look at my jump shot and offer any pointers.

  4. Dan Cornish

    Hi Fred, The investor has become the proxy for the market in the eyes of many. Your point today really highlights this.My rant this morning is against the cult of the investor. An investor should be the last person someone should talk to, not the first. If you have passion, build a product because if feeds your passion for something. Who cares if people buy it, just do it because it gives you great pleasure. If you figure out a way to make money with your passion, then it is even better. OrIf you see a problem or something which needs to be built, then build it and solve the problem. Ask people if they will pay money for your solution. If they do then do more. Only talk to investors if what you are building needs truck loads of money. Very few companies really need investor money if you have innovated a product and innovated a way to sell it.Investors demand a very high price in freedom, equity, control and partnership risk for the money they invest. Customers only demand a great product that solves an important problem. Building a company is like Pokemon Go. Get out of your comfort zone out and capture some customers first, get to level 5, become an experienced trainer and then talk to investors.

    1. Dan Moore

      “The best investors are customers”.See also this gag post from a bootstrapper:… (raises 1.8M, at $29/month).From what I can see and read, VC is awesome for a small small subset of businesses. (Amazon, not Ben and Jerry’s, to borrow another catchphrase: http://www.joelonsoftware.c

    2. Pranay Srinivasan

      What is PokΓ©mon Go?

      1. Mario Cantin

        The new craze to take the world by storm. It’s a game app.

        1. Pranay Srinivasan

          LOL I was being sarcastic πŸ™‚

  5. jason wright

    this need has been going on for quite a while. Judeo Christian thinking requiring a sign from above as validation. it’s in all the popular religious texts. normally it’s a well timed clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning, an angelic apparition, but not so much an email reply.

  6. JimHirshfield

    Dear Fred,I wanna build a service that embeds tweets and makes them into blog posts. Whatayathink?<3Jim

    1. fredwilson

      Go for it. But don’t blame me if it fails

      1. JimHirshfield

        Validation feels sooooo good.

        1. Joe Cardillo

          Sounds to me like you should start looking for an acquirer, with an investor’s blessing it’s pretty much a successful company now=)

          1. JimHirshfield

            I’m feeling particularly unicorny at the moment.

          2. Pranay Srinivasan

            You could sell to Yahoo! and get written down to zero in 2 years.

          3. Anne Libby


          4. Lawrence Brass

            Like an unihorn?

          5. ShanaC

            Should I be concerned that you are going to grow a horn out of your head

          6. JimHirshfield

            Horny? Let’s def not go there.

  7. aminTorres

    “I just delete the email land move on. Sad, but true.” small typo “and” instead of “land”

    1. fredwilson

      Oops. Will fix. thanks!!!

  8. Matthew Ranauro

    Find 5 customers willing to pay for your idea before you make it. Better validation.

    1. jason wright

      what’s the price?

      1. Pranay Srinivasan

        As they say in blackjack.. “What’s the count!”

      2. FlavioGomes

        Whatever you can get as long as there’s a price and they have skin in the game.

    2. TeddyBeingTeddy

      Very good advice. Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know all had paying clients when they opened shop.

  9. David C. Baker

    When someone asks me that, it’s usually a middle-aged adult with some money and abundant success in another area. I always tell them that great ideas aren’t what make successful products/services, but rather discipline and capitalization and marketing. Many great ideas have died for lack of one of those three things, and to talk with someone who knows what they are doing in that area, which isn’t me.I think we have to admit that we make success look too easy or we don’t factor in the element of being in the right place at the right time. Still, as another poster below says, if it must be done, it must be done.I think that most folks who ask you think very highly of your ability to assess viability and in their shoes I’d probably ask you the same question! πŸ™‚

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      Being in the right place at the time can be simplifiedGet in the right place (the vision is usually obvious) – be equipped to camp out under the stars until the right time – don’t quit.

    2. Pranay Srinivasan

      I’ve seen a few of those. Moderately successful people who think Startups are their fast ticket track to the cover of Fortune magazine.

      1. Joe Cardillo

        Founding a startup is more like a fast track to exhaustion, and financial hardship!

        1. Pranay Srinivasan

          Amen. We do it because we give a shit. Not because Marc Andreessen made it cool to appear on magazine covers (First founder to make it sexy to appear like rock icons I guess)

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Yes, sometimes I’ve been too slow to throw away old trash paper so happen still to have the August 28, 1995 copy of the Forbes’s ASAP with cover story about Marc Andreessen withGeorge Gilder Thinks This Kid Can Topple Bill GatesFrom the cover picture and recent publicity pictures, Marc has gained weight and lost hair since then! Maybe still the best work he’s done was the code he wrote for Mosaic!Otherwise it was “Software is eating the world” and signing up with Ben Horowitz who seems to believe that hard things are hard and otherwise gets a lot of his wisdom from some rock musician.

          2. LE

            I have lot’s of respect for Andreessen but as long as we are fawning over luminaries and legacies I think Gates pulled off a whopper heist that’s obvious. You can attribute some to luck (timing, upbringing, mom’s connections; Red Cross/IBM) but he built Microsoft into a powerhouse at a very young age. Andreessen was recruited by Jim Clark and Netscape ultimately failed and didn’t live for a very long time (because of Microsoft) and in no way even came close to what Microsoft was able to do in the same amount of time. Gates was extremely saavy and devious in just the one deal where he sold something he didn’t even own to IBM.

          3. sigmaalgebra

            Yes, microprocessors came along, and the first, huge application was to replace typewriters.IBM came out with their PC but never but never, feet in concrete, head in the sand, saw the potential of PCs or microprocessors.IBM Research was telling IBM management that the future of digital electronics was going small. Partly management believed them. So, to go small, that is for the lithography, need light with short wavelength.So, right, biggie example — Xrays. So, where to get Xrays? Sure, accelerate some electrons, a LOT, say, going around in a circle, as in a cyclotron. So, IBM bought and installed a cyclotron for the source of Xray light for microelectronic manufacturing lithography.That was way, way ahead — so far we are still manufacturing at the ultraviolet (UV), maybe extreme UV (EUV) but not yet really Xrays.But in the “bigger picture,” what the heck is the future of microprocessors? IBM saw, sure, smaller processors for their main business — mainframes for the back office processing for banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, larger government agencies, and reservations for airlines.For the rest, IBM just didn’t take it seriously.Even just for replacing typewriters, IBM didn’t take the opportunity seriously.So, along came Gates, with just software, for just the IBM PC. Then, as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, Gates and Intel grew Windows right along the same architectural lines as the MIT Project MAC computer Multics of 1969. That is, if have a computer, then need an operating system, and the best box of ideas was and largely remains just Multics.Then, for replacing the typewriters, have Office and Word. Presto, bingo, make tens of billions, after tax, in the bank.Then along comes the Internet:First, it was for e-mail for the high end military and research labs. Later it was for that Tim Berners-Lee, CERN newsletter for the particle physics community.When the Internet went commercial, it was to replace the clumsy AOL, etc. dial-up for fora, also for e-mail, and, then, for an on-line introductory publicity brochure for nearly every business.So, now it was getting totally, slap in the face obvious: Each end user gets a new version of a dumb terminal. The main point here (which was the main point of a dumb terminal.): The interface, for the user, the remote computer, and the programmers, is standard. E.g., just write some standard HTML and all users with all Web browsers with all computers can access the Web pages on the server. Every client works with every server; and every server works with every client — biggest network effect ever.Clearly that’s for a huge fraction of user interfaces, user experiences, applications, and computing the future. No doubt. No joke.So, Jim Clark, no dummy, picks up Marc and his Mosaic code, and off they go, do a big IPO, etc.Big splash time. Big boom.Maybe Clark and Marc made some money, but they blew it. They had it in their laps but dropped it.What they had, clearly had, was yet another example of the biggest opportunity in business since Steinmetz, Edison, and Bell — own both ends of the wire!So, for all those Web browsers, there will have to be, also, Web servers and Web applications. That’s a lot to be built that needs lots of infrastructure and tools.An early IBM ad saw part of it: The business man is talking to the Web page hacker who explains that their Web page can have a rotating logo or a flaming logo. The business guy responds something like: You know what would be good would be, a customer can come, search for products, get information on products, buy, with secure payment, with everything integrated with inventory, the supply chain, shipping, etc. The hacker guys responds: “We don’t know how to do that”.But IBM didn’t do much with it.So, own both ends of the wire and, there, see lots of opportunities for much more at both ends of the wire for this new, uniform, universal, world-wide means of users using applications.Then, for the business, grow the functionality of both ends of the wire, in coordinated ways.So the next release of the Netscape Web browser has some nice, new functionality, but to take easy advantage of it you really should have the corresponding, next release of the Netscape server side infrastructure software.That is, own both ends of the wire and grow the functionality and market position of the two ends in a coordinated way so that everyone ends up using both ends from Netscape.So, for the functionality, right: colors and fonts, functionality for page layout, handling still images and motion GIFs, video (i.e., Flash), client side safe code (JavaScript), encryption, secure handling of money, easier Web site construction, good security for both client and server, easier connection from a Web server to a database server, site reliability, scalability, monitoring, management.But, Netscape didn’t do it. Really, neither did anyone else. So, the functionality has come along very slowly, bits and pieces from here and there.At the time, it seemed that Clark and Marc saw all this, but somehow they didn’t get it done.

          4. Mark Essel

            Gates is definitely a sharp deal maker. When I was a kid I thought Bill was a super sharp programmer, when I finished school I realized he was a superb savy marketer.Super cheaply buying, relicensing and selling dos in a unix world! Owning the os/software on pcs where the hardware margin was super thin. More details

          5. LE

            My motivation for being in business was always because I enjoy selling and making deals. That stands on it’s own as a strong motivator. Along those lines even though I don’t follow any sports at all I would enjoy the business aspect of sports. Ditto for music. Not a music guy but the business aspects excite me. I’d love to be an agent in either business. It’s kind of like a person who likes animals and becomes a vet.

          6. Pranay Srinivasan

            same here. I am fascinated by the business of running a business – and I am excited by every facet of running a business – whether its making deals, doing the accounting, managing operations or fundraising. Its something I’m addicted to and find very therapeutic as well as a life vocation.

      2. ShanaC

        Eh. Magazine covers are burnable. Are you affecting people is a real question

    3. LE

      and to talk with someone who knows what they are doing in that areaThat cuts both ways of course. Someone who knows also could be tied to the old way of thinking. I found that happened to me a long long time ago. I had an idea to produce books of apartments for rent (this was before anyone was doing it). I consulted with a customer of mine who managed a large number of apartment buildings. (The idea was ‘if we did this would you advertise’). They said “this will never work in this city”. The reason (which shows you how long ago this was) that the apartments didn’t want to attract “the wrong people” and they felt that by running this type of advertising they would. Growing up in that area it made sense I had no reason to question it. Of course I could have consulted with other people but being busy (and always having more ideas than I could do) I left it at that. Another idea I had (advertising on gas pumps) was shot down by the ad agency that did all of the work for Sunoco. They said “Sunoco pumps are sacred they will never allow advertising there”. [1]Otoh before I opened my first business, right after graduation, in a field I knew nothing at all about, I consulted with a friend of my father who was very successful in that business. He told me “lousy location, no tall office buildings bad idea”. I opened up despite that advice, did very well, and sold the profitable business when I got bored 9 years later. (It is still operating today).[1] There was nothing unique about my ideas and I am sure tons of people thought about doing the same thing. The difference is the person who succeeded didn’t stop at the first opinion like I did. Learned a very valuable lesson. As Reagan said “trust but verify”.

    4. Adam Sher

      “I think that most folks who ask you think very highly of your ability to assess viability and in their shoes I’d probably ask you the same question! :)”If you ask for market validation from someone who would ask you, “what is one thing that you believe that no one else does,” then you will receive validation when you are incorrect. Maybe the best response is one that agrees with your thesis so that you know not to do it!

    5. ShanaC

      I hear fear in that description of the type of person. Fear is normal

    6. Rob Larson

      Reminds me of this quote from Steve Jobs. (via Keith Rabois)

  10. aroyalcrime

    Dear Fred – don’t you think it’s at least equally important to have a plan, to be on a path the implementation? I hear so frequently “That was my idea…” about someone else’s businss. – Carrie

  11. Jan Schultink

    I think many of these emails are not “What do you think of this idea”, but are “Do you want to invest in this idea”. The first question is less scary to ask.

    1. David A. Frankel

      Interestingly, as an entrepreneur, if you are too scared to ask the second question, you have your answer to the first one.

    2. LE

      I did a variation of the “what do you think” when I was considering buying a business that made backpacks a long time ago. I setup a meeting at a major college bookstore (UPENN) with the manager and said “if I sold this bag would you buy it…and how hard would it be for me to even get considered (and other questions)?”. Research basically. From that I gleaned a great deal of insight (long meeting he loved to talk) and advice into how they make buying decisions. Plus developed a rapport with the manager (who had the hots for my wife oddly enough). So it wasn’t high pressure it was just soliciting honest feedback which is exactly what I wanted. What I was trying to determine was how hard it would be to get appointments or shelf space at a college bookstore prior to spending any money to buy this particular business. Back in college my routine was always “I am a college student doing research” and I actually continue that even when I was out of college (it got people’s guard down and made them more likely to help). I was an actor playing a role basically.My point is this. If you are trying to sell someone try to get in by the back door (for some other reason) rather than the front door. Be a little devious. These is easier for some people to do than others.

  12. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    As a self-confessed dream chaser – (sleeves rolled up and up-to my neck in it – but that’s good because previously I was holding my breath)I would make four observations:1) They may seek endorsement from a talking-head to help delude themselves2) They may seek endorsement to turn it round and ask – then you will invest ???3) They may intend to say “fred thought it good” honestly or dishonestly – but do not realise the question is “did fred want in”4) They may not know and have not triedEntrepreneurs need to know – actions speak louder than words, sales louder than investment, boldness precedes victories.Then I would reflect at myself wondering – “should we accept this trade investment proposal” – and give myself a good kick up the arse and realise – I better find my answer not Freds – as I will bear the consequences.Each time I kick my own arse like this my confidence improves and others perceptions of my capabilities (I still feel like a fraud somehow inside) grows.And this is why I return to AVC daily – it makes me reflect on what others have learned – and teach meThank you again Fred – And the team of AVC’ers whether you agree with me or not – you engage !)

  13. Michael B. Aronson

    we get several unsolicited a day, fortunately for us we “only” do UPENN deals and a one line response is usually enough to go away. Its is is a “qualified” PENN deal, we usually do a call unless its way out of the strike zone. I’d want Fred’s thoughts on just about anything!

    1. PhilipSugar

      We haven’t spoken in too long. Are you in Philly for the summer??

      1. Michael B. Aronson

        In and out tues weds, at the beach house rest of the time

  14. Pranay Srinivasan

    I guess its less the validation and more like a Linkedin endorsement request where in 6 weeks, they can cobble a co-founder or write a medium post about being a single founder and then use their Squarespace page to go to a YC partner or a seed investor with your reply and be like, “See? Fred Wilson’s gonna do our A at USV, wanna do the seed?”

  15. creative group

    Contributors:Fred’s post only validates in many ways why an Entrepreneur should never use VC funding. Would the company’s who used VC funding be successful at the same rate? Most likely not. But those companies would enjoyed success just at a different time line. A great idea is still great without validation from others. If you lack the confidence don’t expect it from strangers. It is strange how most people desire to be around success after it is made. But wouldn’t give an unknown the time of day.Celebrity, famous, popular and noteworthy people worship is more telling about your lack of character and values than those people you seek validation from.Fred tell every last one of them to keep their day job. The true character of an Entrepreneur is to just do it.

  16. markslater

    you should do a “speedidea” post and ask the community to fit their big idea in to two sentences and have this crowd judge!I’m sure there are a wealth of quality ideas in this community.

    1. Richard

      You mean like, I want to build a VR game based on Pokemon.

  17. DJL

    I couldn’t agree more. Because when the time comes (and if often does) when you have to make a huge decision that is going to impact your entire business, life and family, it cannot be based on if Fred (or anyone else) thought it was a good idea. It has to be a conviction from a place you might not even be aware of. I am facing one of those now. Time to go deep.

  18. Richard

    The best answer one could give is that it even if you understood what the. standard was for a “good idea” it would take days to perform the necessary due diligence to make an opinion.

  19. Et Veritas Liberabit Vos

    This people just want to have a consultation with someone expert like you. You could transform this into a small business advice. Each person who want some consultation from you can pay a small amount, 20$, 30$ or 50$ to ask you specific questions. You could say that this is a good idea, but a good idea is not enough. So you should advise this people in advance that it’s a good idea, but that this is not enough. This should be clear to everyone. But I totally understand your decision. If you are not interested to start new business, or give advice, and especially you don’t want “be complicit” in that. But failure is part of being entrepreneur, so they should learn also from failure. Like most of us has failed in the start. Thanks for your blog.

  20. David A. Frankel

    If someone is seeking your validation on their idea before starting or is unable to come right out and ask for the order (in this case, it is investment), they are already on the path to failure in my book.So, in an odd way, I think your reaction to these emails is the perfect one. Being an entrepreneur means dealing with ambivalence, rejection and “no” every day. No one cares about your idea as much as you do. No one owns the success or failure of your idea as much as you do. Fred Wilson deletes your email without response? BFD. He’s a busy guy. On to the next one.I’d be very interested in how many people come back to you a year or so later saying, “I sent you an email seeking validation on my idea a while back, did not hear back, but did not let it stop me. Here is my business plan and proof of concept. Will you invest?” Those are the ones I’m sure you would hesitate on before deleting.

  21. sigmaalgebra

    Sometimes — no doubt usually — it is difficult to know in advance if a planned, new business will be successful.Still, it is important to start new businesses and there to have some good ways to know if a candidate business is worth a big effort to make it successful.Or, we want success, but there we need to know a good project for our investment of time, money, effort, etc.1.0 ScopeThe scope, that is, the variety, range, of successful businesses is enormous, so large it is challenging to discuss all of them.E.g., the US is just awash in businesses, from cross roads to the largest cities, serving people from just locally to around the world.So, let’s look a little at the scope and, then, narrow the focus:1.1 Local BusinessesMany businesses are local and fairly predictable. To understand more, just look at the Main Street of your town: So, there, see restaurants, auto repair, convenience stores, gas stations, copy and print shops, lawn care, family physicians, dentists, medical testing laboratories, HVAC, fuel oil delivery, real estate brokers, rental real estate, kitchen and bath remodeling, rental apartments, houses, and office space, car dealerships, retail hardware, wholesale plumbing and electrical, etc.Some of these local business have an advantage — they have no competition within 50 miles, that is, they have a geographical barrier to entry. So, in such cases, maybe if do comparatively well in a radius of 50 miles, then will have a relatively successful business.One way to understand more about such businesses is, say, as a teenager, work in some of them, say, as a clerk. Many of your neighbors know some such businesses very well — if you have an opportunity, get them to tell you about business!A Lesson: Being successful at such businesses can’t be too rare or difficult because, in the US, many millions of such businesses are successful now.1.2 Big Old BusinessesWe all know many big old businesses, e.g., Ford, GM, Toyota, GE, IBM, Citi, General Foods, American Airlines, FedEx, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Wal-Mart, etc.Starting a business to compete directly with any of those businesses stands to be, compared with other startup opportunities, especially challenging: Why? Typically those old, large businesses have well known brand names, operations fairly well refined and efficient, access to lots of expertise and cash to respond to competition, etc.Still, there can be openings, possibilities, opportunities: E.g., Amazon is likely taking business from Wal-Mart.No doubt some small, new, local fast food restaurants are taking business from McDonald’s. E.g., in much of the US, South, BBQ places do well, and McDonald’s, after some efforts, e.g., McRib, has never been able to do well in BBQ.For franchised businesses, e.g., McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, might run one or several such locations. Do well running 10 McDonald’s and likely can do well supporting a family.Apparently Shake Shack has been successful starting up against McDonald’s: E.g., a local, novel business might catch on locally and grow from there.A small, local bank might be able to compete with Citi.A smart guy with good knowledge of his/her local community and good connections there might do well as an independent insurance agent against State Farm, Travelers, Allstate, etc.For a candidate new business to compete against some big, old business, first just look at the fundamentals: Is there some part of the business that is being neglected, e.g., where you can do better? How much expertise, capital, legal help, etc. will be needed before your revenues exceed your expenses?2.0 Information TechnologyUsually a US venture capital firm will concentrate on either information technology (IT) or biomedical technology, and IT is much more common.In a sense, the dream of IT and IT VC is “another Google”. Much of the attractiveness of Google is that it was started by just two guys who typed in some code and now is one of the most valuable businesses in the world. Similarly for Facebook — Zuck typed in some code, and now Facebook is also one of the most valuable businesses in the world. Can also review the stories of the early days at Apple, Microsoft, Cisco.Broadly long much of the attractiveness of IT as a startup has been due to Moore’s law, the Internet, readily available infrastructure software, and billions of end users with PCs, laptops, tablets, smart phones.Be skeptical: In simple terms, early PCs, Microsoft, and Intel did well because they replaced typewriters. The resulting productivity gains were enormous.Smart phones did well because mobile phones were important and smart phones were a little better as mobile phones and had some additional utility.There is a pressing dilemma: Nearly no one knows what the next success as big as Google will be, but nearly everyone believes that there will be one and that there will be a few each decade. Big dilemma.3.0 New NichesNew things in IT come along, e.g., Bitcoin, Android, 5G, and each of those can have niche opportunities where so far no one is trying to take the opportunities. So, to see such opportunities, watch for the new things and look for their niches.4.0 The Vanilla IT DirectionBroadly with educational material in computer programming and computer science, a guess of how to have a successful startup is (1) learn to program, (2) see an end user, consumer application program would like to have, (3) write the software, (4) get publicity, customers/users, revenue, etc.E.g., might come out with a new game for mobile devices. Might make the game social with some aspects that can lead to virality. People have thought of such a thing so often there is a parody social, local, mobile, sharing apps!I don’t know of any such opportunities, but I can’t say there are none.So, if you want to learn programming, then, sure, learn enough programming (e.g., largely teach yourself) to write such a program. If you get a successful business, then terrific. If you don’t, then you have learned programming, can use that knowledge to try another project, likely in less time than the one before, and otherwise work for someone else until do have another idea you want to try.That is, even if your startup is not successful, the work on your startup was not necessarily wasted.I see some seemingly fundamental problems here: (1) A lot of people are quite busy and, thus, don’t have time for some new IT product or service in their lives unless it is really important for them. (2) For a smartphone user, typically they have only a dozen or so apps they like, and the competition for that short list is severe. (3) Around the world there are millions of programmers able to write code for another simple app or Web site.5.0 A Novel ApproachThe US Department of Defense (DoD) has a long list of successful projects; a big theme is that the projects were successful because they got a much more powerful solution; they got that solution from some advanced, novel work in applied mathematics, physics, etc. Big examples include passive sonar, GPS, stealth, surveillance satellites, nuclear weapons, etc.That situation, as impressive as it is, does not by itself usually translate easily and directly to successful startups in the commercial business but can point to some business advantages.So, notice that in IT the information. Well, information can be powerful and valuable.Next, fundamentally, information comes from mathematics. Indeed, just a good definition of information has to be from mathematics.Of course, an example of a commercial application of mathematics for information is Internet Web site ad targeting: So, take available data, manipulate it, and find what ads to show what users. These manipulations are necessarily mathematically something, understood or not, powerful or not, and for more powerful, valuable manipulations it would be wise to proceed mathematically, maybe with some new results in mathematics, established as correct and powerful with carefully done theorems and proofs, and maybe with some advanced, novel, powerful prerequisites.For this approach exploiting math, we’re talking about powerful, valuable information, and broadly we suspect that the appetite is limitless.Yes, the more highly hyped parts of computer science are trying to be more mathematical, but with rare exceptions the people don’t have the mathematical prerequisites for anything very new or different in the mathematics. So, they are limited to applying some quite, narrow specific techniques.So, a broad opportunity is, with some math, generate some new, valuable information.One big point: Growing up with just horses for transportation, it was nearly impossible to imagine, in any realistic, practical sense, airplanes and current military and commercial aviation. Without seeing any possibility of powered flight, people just didn’t want to take even 15 minutes to think about many thousands of airplanes carrying people, cargo, bombs, etc.Much the same is true for some new applied math or, really, the potential of anything new from research: People who do not personally understand the research will nearly universally just refuse to entertain that the research could have any important value in a startup.Lesson: Essentially all the potential of research, even just some novel derivations in applied math, is ignored — people just will NOT think at all seriously about the commercial potential of research in applied math for IT. So, there is a greenfield of low competition there.There is more respect for biomedical research which, however, is much more difficult to do: Applied math research needs a pencil and paper. Biomedical research needs a lab that costs maybe $1 million. To deploy the software results of some applied math research, nearly always just let people use the software. To deploy the results of biomedical research, usually need long, expensive medical trials. Summary Look back 200 years and see the products and services we have now that we didn’t have 200 years ago. It’s easy to list 20 big examples. But the 200 years is only 20 decades, so on average there was a big example at a rate something over one per decade.Much of the progress we have is from just such new products and services, from a few to several each decade.So, on the one hand, we expect some really good, new products and services. And now broadly, say, from 50,000 feet up, IT is likely the most promising area, IMHO especially with some good exploitation of math for valuable information.On the other hand, still, we have 6+ billion people in the world so that only a tiny fraction of those people will create a big example of a new product or service, in IT, biomedical technology, or anything else.So, big successes are nearly guaranteed but are rare.For an example, at, say,…look up the history of the Canadian romantic matchmaking startup Plenty of Fish — long one guy, two old Dell servers, ads just from Google, $10 million a year in revenue, and, as at,…finally sold out to Match Group For $575M.If with a lot of information, insight, thinking, objectivity, reflection, skepticism, data, feedback, the lessons from history, your resources in time, money, and energy, planning, etc. you see your way clear to a big success, then maybe go for it.Uh, notice I never mentioned passion. IMHO, a lot of passion and a dime still won’t quite cover a 10 cent cup of coffee. IMHO, trust the best that is between your ears with only some input — say, to help you better understand others — from your heart, your gut, and below your belt.”Far and away the greatest prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”Theodore RooseveltYes, if that work is also successful!And now is, compared with history, a special time — someone with a computer worth less than $1000 and an Internet connection will create a nicely successful new business. Why not you?

    1. Lawrence Brass

      I also like to think about decades when contemplating technological progress, it makes it more understandable and achievable, but that also has made me ponder about how many productive decades a person may have. There are lines of work on which, because of fitness or just because of ageism, you may be declared ‘not apt’.The nice thing about entrepreneuring or being independent is that the limits and scope of what can be achieved are mostly defined by the one assuming the task.Been doing some consulting work again these months, somewhat against my will because the project is what drives me now and I noticed for the second time how everything is intertwined, as we used some of the project’s R&D output to build a solution and we will probably get further work because of that. A bit wary about it as all this will distract me from my main interest, but very rewarding anyway. I usually say that bootstrapping and moonlighting are half assed attempts to do things but have to agree that two halves makes a full (ass).Good to see Dr. Sigma and his cat in good spirits, maybe exogenous interruptions are not always bad.Cheers.

  22. TeddyBeingTeddy

    You should just be honest and tell them “no, you shouldn’t”. Because if they have enough doubt to cold email you about their doubt, then they know the answer to their own question. If they have that much doubt now, when it’s a fresh fun new idea, imagine their doubt when they find out a competitor is killing them with a better product, when the dogs don’t eat their dog food, or when they realize their economics ultimately can never work. Save them the money, agony, and personal relationships – and end their eventual suffering. A steady 9-5 with time to see the kids play ball, and a stress free mind to sleep well at night…is pretty darn good too.And yes, I’m available for motivational speeches at various startups and universities.

  23. Nicholas Osgood

    Very true and on point. Ideas are EASY to create. Building a company, finding product market fit, lack of sleep, increased stress and managing people + their families and livelihoods is NOT. It takes a special person to want to take on that burden and responsibility.

  24. bsoist

    I remember that tweet storm. Now you have a link to send in reply to those emails.

  25. Asim Aslam

    Reminds me of when college students ask whether they should drop out to start a startup. I recall an interview with Chris Sacca in which he very bluntly said “many of you are not meant to be founders” and that they should stay in school. If you truly believe in something it doesn’t matter what anyone says or thinks, you will pursue it. You have to be authentic. Pursue a problem that you fundamentally understand, something that you have experience in that most others don’t. A lot of the times people end up pursuing something because the solutions out there just don’t fit what they believe should exist.

  26. Lawrence Brass

    If people are asking you for help or validation in a way that you can’t react to, it maybe is a sign that it is the right time to write the book you have talked about. The book, of course, would make the problem worse as everyone will want a signed copy and more advice.

  27. Adam Sher

    The people emailing you are hoping for a classic, “yesssss.” Unfortunately, you’ve (and most VCs) been unsuccessful in so many investments that the correlation between your initial support and financial success is low. In descending order of outcomes:Ideas that are interestingIdeas that are worth spending time onIdeas that are worth spending money on (maybe swap with above)Ideas that become a companyCompanies that earn profits

  28. David Semeria

    It doesn’t matter what Fred or the entrepreneur thinks about the idea.The only thing that counts is what users think of it.Sad, but real.

  29. Aashay Mody

    I find that even more than believing in yourself, it’s important to get some form of early validation from your potential customers

  30. Kevin Hill

    I haven’t written you such and email, but I imagine that if I did, I would be looking for you to help me see the weakest part of my idea. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you see then fix the weakest part of a product/idea/project, then repeat, that pretty soon that thing becomes pretty damn awesome.Though perhaps that is terrible response for someone who maybe just lacks a bit of confidence.

  31. Kirsten Lambertsen

    When I was first embarking on my second startup project, back in 2012, I was given some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: “You should start reading Fred Wilson’s blog and participating in the comments.”I’m still benefiting from that advice long after putting a stake in the heart of that particular startup πŸ™‚ Thank goodness they didn’t say, “You should email Fred Wilson and ask him what he thinks.” Ha!

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank that person for me, will you.

  32. myasmine

    I’ve noticed the same thing and I believe it’s because they’re subconsciously looking for permission to take the leap.

  33. Greg Cote

    You could also consider it a form of public service, giving back to the tech community. You are in the privileged position of seeing many ideas and plans that individual entrepreneurs don’t. You also have the wisdom gained over several decades of doing this that enables you to see patterns before others do. Rather than validating them, why not point out the biggest strength and biggest challenge you see in the plan or idea. Give them something to focus on. Their level of commitment and validation will sort itself out as they size the effort to tackle the challenge in order to capitalize on the strength that you noted. And for you, it’s a chance to fuel the entrepreneurial magic every day of the year. πŸ™‚

  34. ShanaC

    I’m profoundly glad my last email to you was close to that but not that.(It was to settle a domestic argument about patents while deciding about viability of ideas in startups. It had some additional questions related to patents, and how they changed as material knowledge and needs as the startup grows. That’s it.Yes, I have a weird domestic life to even need a third party to help settle that kind of argument in the first place)

  35. ShanaC

    I don’t think it’s just validation they need. It’s help with fear. Fear is super isolating. They want to know even if they fail, the world won’t fall apart and they’ll be alone

  36. george

    11/BTW, don’t take No for an Answer. πŸ™‚

  37. felixc

    Great post.On a side note: What are thoughts of how the tweet storm would change if twitter gets rid of the 140 character limit? Does that make it just a blog post?I occasionally get frustrated by the character limit but something about that 140 characters and the grammar and abbreviation contortions you have to go through seem intrinsic to the nature of twitter.

  38. sgleahy

    Passionate execution matters way more than unique ideas for almost any company. 100,000 people have “the idea”. 10,000 talk it through with friends and colleagues. 1,000 create a plan. 100 speak to potential clients and vendors to validate “the idea”. 10 actually start something. 7 drop out, 2 do “OK”, 1 masters the marketplace.

  39. baba12

    “I understand the need for validation. And part of me wants to tell them β€œgo for it.” I would like to see more people get up the nerve to chase their dreams. But I don’t want to be complicit in that. So most of the time, I just delete the email and move on. Sad, but true.” Why do people continue to email you asking for you to help validate something.I am guessing they email you either because they are really stupid and not able to comprehend and or have not read before emailing you that you don’t respond to such emails. Also it is possible that you haven’t made it clear enough that emailing you to get validated isn’t a good idea. Maybe you buried that line about deleting such emails in 6 point font in page 1093 of your blog, but I would think an A/B experiment is worth carrying out to see if people read something if it is clearly visible and comprehend what the statement refers to or are they just super ignorant/stupid.The market is the best validation for any idea. VC’s are as gifted as the poor guy on the streets of Kolkata begging in predicting the future. It is the masses that are ignorant that places more value on a VC and anoint them as lords and divas…

  40. Alexander McNulty

    At least you keep a blog.

  41. Nidhi Mevada

    Yes they should chase on dreams but their has be strategic approach toward it.I have seen many aspiring entrepreneurs, who spend 2-3 years and money on idea. 60-70% of them drop it due to team issues, wrong product – market fit, lack of sales skills, imbalance in cashburn and revenue.These days everyone try to become great advisor/mentor and give bunch of free advices. Most of naive entrepreneurs get confused, change their decisions frequently. I learnt from them, you should never advise someone till you are 97% sure about. We dont know how much it could affect his future, if it was not appropriate.As no one has invented formula for successful company, but Y Combinator is doing great job for it. Main thing entrepreneur forget is “product – market fit”. YC has 20 videos on startup and execution. Every startup enthusiast should watch these vidoes How to Start a Startup:

  42. Lawrence Brass

    / <—- {:P}