Timing isn't everything

I worked on my first startup idea many many years ago. Back then, I got tired of working at a software consulting firm and decided I wanted to try it out on my own. 

The desire to build a product and a business of my own was so strong that I even convinced my long time friend to quit his job and join me. 

Our first attempt as a 2-man team was to solve the age old of problem faced by every Malaysian. What to eat for lunch? This was way before Yelp and age of smartphones. 

The site was named Ravejoint and after working on it for a year and tried to sell advertising on it, we threw in the towel and declared it a failure. We concluded that we were too early and the market wasn't ready. Basically, we convinced ourselves that the issue isn't our product but rather our timing. 

Recently I read an article by an early investor of Amazon, Nick Hanauer. He was the first non family investor in Amazon and knew Jeff Bezos during the early days of the dot-com boom. 

We all know what happened after that. Amazon grew from an online store selling books to the online retail giant we know today that is also the market leader in cloud computing, AI and many other verticals. 

What's interesting is that at the same time, Nick also knew Jeff Tauber. Like the other Jeff, he too knew the potential of the Internet and started an online departmental store named Cybershop. But at a time when Internet was in its infancy and without the trust of consumer, the company failed. 

Bezos saw the same opportunity, acted at the same time but with a critical insight. He knew it's too soon to sell goods online. So instead, he focused on selling books which are low-priced commodities that don't vary in quality. 

Despite having the same timing and seeing the same potential, both companies had a very different outcome. One no longer exist while the other has just bought Whole Foods for 13 billion

Too often, we blame it on bad timing as the reason why our venture fail. It's either we were too early and had to fight an uphill battle or we were too late and the competitors head-start are too hard to overcome. 

I think we need also be honest with ourselves. Other than having to be at the right place at the right time, we also need to have some unique insight that make us the right candidate to build a product or company that will succeed. 

Ravejoint failed not just because we were too early. We mistakenly believe the problem was something big enough that we could build a business around. It also didn't help that we picked a market so small it's limited our potential from the get-go. 

If you are planning to start something, other than validating the timing of your idea, be very honest and ask yourself, do you have any insight that will give you an edge?