From Disciple of @cdixon to Selectively Stealth
Before I started in the venture capital world, an opportunity recognized was an opportunity worth guarding. Later, after listening to folks who had been around the block, I learned that there was little to no risk in preaching my new ideas to anyone who would listen. Reading advice such as this post from Chris Dixon only furthered my position that stealth mode was for the naive.
For the last few months I have been working on a new project…and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t reexamined my perspective on what is worth sharing and what is worth holding back. Bijan wrote this post today which crystalized an archetype of founder for whom stealth mode is a reasonable form of operation. He writes:
“I do appreciate what stealth mode represents to me — namely an idea that takes a long time to build with founders that are wonderfully proud, crazy ambitious with a healthy dose of paranoia.”
A little while ago we incorporated our new company under the name Coopkanics, Inc., not because we had a secret to hide, but simply because we needed to start building “that thing that takes a long time to build”, and while we had a vision for what it was, we didn’t have a brand or a product that was worthy of “market facing” ink. Our intention was not to be secretive. Ask me what we’re working on and I’ll tell you. Out intention is, however, to be straightforward about where we are and where we are not yet. And right now we’re at “Coopkanicks, Inc.”…3 (arguably) smart guys, who have had some success in the past, working on the biggest thing we could possibly find to work on. Full of ideas…started to build em, and doing it reasonably efficiently. Anything more than that would simply be premature, so why sell it?
People always expect you to sell them. They want you to convince them of your work. When I meet someone who assumes this position with me, I stare blankly at them. When I meet someone who wants to engage and contribute, I go as deep as I possibly can. I guess you could say my position is “selectively stealth.” If you are and idiot, arrogant, or opportunistic “I am working on the mobile internet, and I don’t know much more yet” If you are intelligent, curious, and engaged, “I am working on the mobile internet, and here is everything I know so far.” Regardless of which conversation I am having, one thing I will not do is sell you. We are where we are…which is a space that I fear many “stealth founders” can’t live in.
The other side of Bijan’s version of stealth, which I abhor, is the founder who hides behind stealth when they don’t yet know or have confidence in what they are building. They can’t live with where they are. It takes a special kind of chicken to mask uncertainty as some sort of strategic decision to stay quiet about one’s work. If you aren’t confident enough to say “this is what I know, and this is what I don’t know yet” and you’re keeping things under wraps until you have a story to sell, you are doomed. And if you are hyping your company and brand while playing this game, you are triple doomed. Unfortunately, I think 1 out of 10 stealth founders are Bijan’s long term thoughtful archetype, and 9 out of 10 are blowing smoke while they try to figure it out behind the curtain. Those people give stealth a bad name.
I think it’s not about stealth vs. open…I think it’s about sharing what’s worth sharing thoughtfully.