Wave Makers

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
— Albert Einstein

Every now and then an entrepreneur comes up with an idea so brilliant that it is not only a complete game changer, but also a radical transition and dislocation for multiple industries. The ramifications are enormous, and the results staggering.

Rarely in history, someone accomplishes this more than once. These exceptional entrepreneurs are wave makers. 

Brian Lee is a wave maker.

  Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

To have one small success, it could be luck. A big success, you are really good. A series of very large successes, or waves, you are truly exceptional. Brian Lee is exceptional. As Jeanne Moreau said, “As long as you don't make waves, life seems easy. But that's condemning yourself to impotence and death before you are dead.”

Brian cofounded LegalZoom, when no one even thought of buying legal documents online. LegalZoom, now being run by my good friend, John Suh, is an example of how a phenomenal online company is build and run to change an industry. That began the wave of online services for many industries. The list of the companies that have been funded and acquired is truly impressive.

Having no experience in retail or shoes, Brian then founded ShoeDazzle. Many people thought selling shoes on line is overdone, margins too low, and logistics too complicated. 

Instead of seeing a problem, he saw an opportunity, as his idea was not only different, it was revolutionary. He would sell shoes on a subscription basis to women, based on their individual profiles, selected by famous designers, at a price point that would be acceptable to the masses. As Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

Just three years old, the company is now considered the new wave of online commerce, now referred to as Social Commerce. This incredible success is the result of a brilliant founder, a great idea, an experienced team, good timing, and flawless execution. It is no surprise that capital flows to this company. Brian has turned away more capital than most CEOs dream of raising during their careers.

As soon as the success of this company became apparent, other smart, experienced entrepreneurs assembled experienced teams with solid track records and applied the same business model and customer acquisition methodology to other market segments and industries. It was no surprise the some were very successful in raising capital quickly, at very favorable valuations. In essence the risk of the model had already been mitigated, and it was only a question of execution. These entrepreneurs are riding Brian’s waves. 

We all know that in tech, IP has a very short shelf life. Most ideas are derivatives of other ideas. So you need the think strategically, and learn from other successful CEOs. Here are lessons learned from some of the CEOs of have had the pleasure of knowing:

  • Timing plays a key role. If you are too early, or too late, you won’t succeed.
  • The idea and company you start with will morph with time. You must be flexible, adaptable, and willing to learn.
  • There will always be numerous mistakes and challenges of all sorts along the way. Learn from them.
  • The markets shift quickly and unexpectedly. Don’t fight it.
  • If the idea and the market are indeed good, there will always be competitors, some with more money, resources, and access. Embrace competition.
  • Access to capital varies with the mood of the investment community. Get it when you can.

So if you want to be one of the rare wave makers, go out there and give it a try. As Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”