Who comes up with the best ideas and why don’t they matter?
Snapchat’s Founder Quarrel
We all saw in The Social Network how Mark Zuckerberg essentially stole the idea of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins. Yes, Zuck was already something of an expert in the space having struck a nerve with his “hot or not” web game, but it was the twin’s who really came up with the idea that he ran with.
It now appears that the tech industry’s hottest new startup, Snapchat, has a similar story. According to an anonymous source in a TechCrunch report today, English major Reggie Brown was in his dorm room at Stanford university in the Spring of 2011 with two friends when he came up with the idea to have a texting app that would instantly delete a “sext” so that the receiver couldn’t save it.
Recognizing it was a genius idea, he ran down the hall to tell his friend Evan Spiegel, a product design major, about the idea. “He just knew [Spiegel] would take him seriously and move forward,” Anon says. Sure enough, Spiegel saw its potential and called on his fellow house-member Bobby Murphy to come in as the programmer.
But by August, the team had a huge blowout over the order of names on a patent that Brown had worked on writing. Horrible things were said. Murphy and Spiegel changed Brown’s login passwords and essentially cut him out of the company completely.
Brown has now filed a lawsuit against Snapchat, who has raised $14 million at a $70 million valuation, claiming that he is entitled to a third of the company. Spiegel and Murphy say that he partied a lot and hardly contributed anything.
The Mythical Idea Founder
The reality is that as an English major, Brown has nothing more to contribute to his own company than he would any other tech startup. Sitting in his dorm room that night, he recognized something that he needed and was smart enough to tell people about it who could actually build it.
Having an idea doesn’t make you a founder. Steve Jobs didn’t come up with the idea for Apple any more than Zuck did for Facebook. The only thing that seems to matter with startups is who can actually execute, and those people are the coders.
This trend doesn’t seem to change at all with startups in the fashion sector. Looking at the 117 companies in our 2012 FashionTech Industry Report, only a few of them were founded by people who had worked in fashion. Most are either corders or MBA grads.
Eyewear startup Rivet & Sway was founded by John Lusk who’s prior startup was inventing a new computer mouse. Monogram founder Leo Chen was a hedge fund consultant. Everlane founder Michael Preysman was a venture capitalist and Stylitics founder Rohan Deuskar was an Amazon Product Manager and MBA grad.
Consignment commerce platform Threadflip was inspired by CEO Manik Singh’s wife. Consignment app Poshmark was also inspired by CEO Manish Chandra’s wife. There’s StyleSaint who’s product/vision/voice/founder Allison Beal is also wife to the CEO and former venture capitalist Brian Garrett. Fashion photo sharing app Pose’s CEO is a UX designer and their competitor, Snapette, was founded by private equity investor Sarah Paiji.
The list of fashion/technology startups that weren’t founded by people who come from fashion goes on and on. According to the Remix philosophy, all of these founders must have stolen and manipulated their ideas from someone else who, unless they were a spouse, didn’t get any credit for it.
The Marketplace of Ideas
With all of this rampant “stealing,” you might feel stronger than ever to keep your startup guarded before launch but the truth is actually quite the opposite. What has made Silicon Valley so successful is that its culture has always embraced “The Marketplace of Ideas.” If you want to know what it is, just ask someone to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and find yourself being laughed out of a room.
The opportunities that can come from freely networking and talking about your idea will always overshadow the risk of having someone steal it. If you really are the best person to found your company, then you will be the one to do it.
In early stage startups, investors like to say they “invest in the founder, not the idea” because they quite expect the idea to change as the company grows. They embrace the “Lean Startup Strategy” that uses constant iteration from user and consumer feedback to figure out which features or products should be made and shipped first.
With limited resources, startups only value people who can actually produce.
The FashionTech Flaw
If I had $100,000 for every time a new “photo sharing fashion app” was released last year, I would have enough money to found a fashiontech startup that actually did something innovative.
The FashionTech scene, almost above any other, is full of clones and new attempts at old ideas. There’s the virtual closet BLAH, the social shopping BLAH, the Pinterest board BLAH, the collage editing BLAH… Really just a bunch of attempts at getting into the “exciting world of fashion” with only a shallow understanding of how it actually works.
Technology startups can steal ideas until the end of days, but the system has completely broken down when it comes to the fashion space and that’s probably why we haven’t seen any significant disruption yet. The true disruption that I am looking for is someone from the fashion space that steals an idea from the tech world. The person that I’m looking for understands the intricacies of style and class and creativity just as much as he/she understands analytics and business. The person that I’m looking for cannot be copied or replaced.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s there but just hasn’t shown itself yet. Perhaps there is someone on the verge of declaring themselves the winner.
Perhaps, just maybe, it’s even Sophia Amoruso who has scaled her company Nasty Gal from an eBay store into the fastest growing company in the country.
Artwork by Rodney Pike via DeviantArt.com