Subscribe · Featured · Recent · The Cold Start Problem 📘

Pitch the future while building for now

On the eve of the 500 Startups demo day, I wanted to offer some thoughts on pitching versus product planning. In an effort to impress investors, we’ve all steered our products towards what we think is sexy or investable, versus what is most likely to work for consumers. I’ve come to believe that this is a kind of Silicon Valley disease, and we should try hard to avoid it.

The short-term/long-term dilemma
One of the hardest things for entrepreneurs is the struggle between two things:

  • Having a really big, really abstract goal for the future (“Connect everyone in the world!”, “Sell all the things!”)
  • Picking the headline on the landing page for current product you have (“Sign up for this college social network”, “Buy these books”)

It can be easy to confuse the role of the two.

Two failure cases:
If you let your big abstract goal take over day to day product development, then I’m convinced that you’ll end up building a really weird product. Consumers don’t care about your long-term strategy, they just want to scratch their itch now. They want to put you in a bucket with something else they recognize, and if they don’t get it, they’ll hit the back button in 5 seconds flat.

If you let your current product become the whole thing, then you’ll find it hard to recruit a team and find investors. They’ll think you’re just working on a toy, and especially if you don’t have breakout traction, you might get starved for money and talent.

So what’s the right balance?
I’ve come to believe that leading with the day-to-day product is definitely the way to go. Build a great product, even if it looks/sounds like a toy, and get the retention and engagement you need. Once you have that, make the big-picture story work.

That way, you’re focused on the most important thing- getting to product/market fit. That’s the hard part – making up a cool story is easy once you have some numbers.

So focus on the now, and build a great initial product for your customers. Then talk to someone who’s pitched to investors multiple times, and come up with a big, audacious story to wrap around that traction. I guarantee that’ll be easier than you think.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.