Cross-Pollination

I love flowers, but I don’t care much for pollen.  Pollen makes my eyes water, it makes my nose run, and it makes me sneeze. Right now, the acacia trees down the street are in bloom, and, as a result, I can barely breathe. Nasty stuff, pollen, if you’re prone to hay fever. But, if we didn’t have pollen, we wouldn’t have flowers. It’s the mixing of genes that happens when the pollen from one flower reaches the ovary of another that provides us with our floral bounty.

Acacia Aneura Blossom

Acacia Aneura Blossom. Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr.

We often use floral metaphors in business.  When a business does well, we say that it is “flowering.”   When some initiative starts to work out we say that it is “bearing fruit.”  And, just as all fruiting plants begin as seeds, all businesses begin with a concept in the mind of a business artist.  (See my earlier posts about the artistry of business and the elements of a business idea.)  The founder (or founders) have a vision — perhaps a foggy vision, but a vision none-the-less — of a product.  From that starting point, they go on to design the product, build a sales channel, develop a go-to-market strategy, raise capital, and file tax returns.  In other words, they execute.  And, along the way, the vision becomes clearer, or perhaps the entrepreneurs pivot to a new vision, or, perhaps, tragically, the vision proves completely untenable.  But, without an initial concept there is no business.  The concept is the seed from which the business grows.

But, where does the seed come from?

I suspect that it’s rare that a single person, sitting all alone with a stack of books (and, nowadays, the internet), comes up with a business idea just by thinking.  I don’t have data to back up the claim, but I would guess that business ideas are like flower seeds: they come from cross-pollination.  An technology idea from one person mixes with a business model idea from another person. Or three people discover they’re all frustrated by the same problem and decide to join forces to build a solution. Or veterans of two competing businesses realize that if they combine the best of both competitors they can form a more successful venture.

Just as in the plant kingdom, there’s a fair amount of randomness involved in business pollination.  You can’t make it happen by force, any more than a flower can make a bee carry pollen to and fro.  But, flowers have evolved to provide tasty nectar that attracts bees, and they tend to grow in fields so that there are plenty of nearby flowers with which to exchange genes.  In business, you can go where entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, consumers, or business people gather. And, in place of nectar, you can arrive bearing the gift of your knowledge, skill, capital, or network.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit allergic to business pollen too.  I like people just fine, but, I don’t much enjoy a crowded cocktail party where everyone has a name tag and a voice hoarse from shouting over the din.  I don’t love introducing myself to people I don’t know.  As a child, I was a competitive chess player, not the quarterback on the football team. Where I live, it takes 5 minutes to walk to the nearest neighbor and 25 minutes to drive to the nearest supermarket.   Peace and quiet is just fine for me.

But, without pollen, you can’t have flowers.  So, I’ve signed up for local technology meet-ups.  I’ve set up meetings with smart people from diverse backgrounds.  I’m getting back in touch with old friends and colleagues.  And I’m providing advice to other entrepreneurs.  Are you a high-tech entrepreneur who could use a fresh pair of eyes?  Send me your business plan or pitch deck, and I’ll review it and send you my thoughts.  (Disclaimer: I reserve the right to get too busy to review all the plans I receive!)  I don’t promise any advice I provide will be particularly good, but you can’t beat the price.  Let’s cross-pollinate!

Last but not least, I’ll be joining a local angel investing group.  In so doing, I hope to make money, but the real payoff will be getting to know more local investors and entrepreneurs.  However, I think the angel investing industry needs to make a change.  Angels often refer to the capital they provide as “seed” funding, but entrepreneurs already have a seed.  Angels provide potting soil and a bit of water.  Early-stage capital allows business seeds to put down little roots and send up little shoots.  From whence beautiful flowers may someday come.

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