Spirit of the time - Chris Dixon at Zeitgeist Americas 2011

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 27.09.2011

[ Applause ] >>Chris Dixon: Hi, my name is Chris Dixon.
I'm a little under the weather, and I'm told that shorter is better so I am going to make
this short and sweet. I'm an Internet entrepreneur and investor.
I've founded three companies and invested in about 80 companies. My most recent ventures
are a recommendation technology company called Hunch and a seed-stage venture fund called
Founder Collective. Today I just want to talk about a few things
I've learned over the years about entrepreneurship and innovation. And the first thing is, if
you aren't getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals are not ambitious enough.
When I -- the most valuable lesson I had in my -- starting out in my career was when I
was trying to break in the tech world and I applied to jobs at big companies and at
startups, at VC firms. I got rejected everywhere. I had sort of an unusual background. I was
a philosophy major, a self-taught programmer. It turned out to be the most valuable experience
of my career because I eventually developed such thick skin that I just didn't care anymore
about getting rejected. And, in fact, I kind of turned it around and started embracing
it. I eventually -- that sort of emboldened me.
Through those sort of bolder tactics, eventually landed a job that got my first startup funded.
So every day to this day I try to make sure I get rejected.
So, number two, don't climb the wrong hill. I speak a lot to young people who are thinking
about joining startups and trying to sort of recruit them. And I see a very common pattern,
which is people get stuck in fields that they don't like because they feel like they're
making incremental day-to-day progress. I think a good analogy for sort of understanding
this concept is one that comes from computer science. It is sort of known as hill-climbing
algorithms. I'll describe this briefly. Imagine a sort
of landscape, the hilly landscape with some tall hills and shorter hills. And your goal
is to find the highest hill, and that might be whatever your personal goal is.
And what tends to happen, I think, is that -- especially this happens with ambitious
people is that the lure of taking a step upward on the current hill is very strong and it
is very hard to sort of step back and go and explore and look at other hills.
What computer science teaches you is the optimal algorithm for finding the highest hill is
to meander, explore a lot, especially early on. Occasionally drop yourself into random
places around the terrain. And when you find the highest hill, pursue it, no matter how
attractive the upward step of the current hill might appear.
Number three, the next big thing will start out looking like a toy. If you look at the
list of the top Internet companies a decade ago, more than -- I think, majority of them
are now effectively defunct. How can this happen? These were companies run by very talented
executives who were constantly on the lookout for new threatening technologies.
The answer is we found in Clay Christensen's disruptive technology theory, which is something
that is widely studied, I think, but not applied enough because it runs so counter to conventional
management thought. So the most -- the most famous example is when -- when the telephone
was invented, the incumbent at the time was Western Union. And they literally called the
telephone a toy because it could only travel -- voice could only travel a mile. And they
were primarily concerned with their best customers who were railroads and large businesses who
needed service for much longer distances. And, of course, what western union didn't
recognize was that how quickly telephone technology and infrastructure would develop. The same
pattern happened with mainframe computer makers and PCs. The same pattern happened with telecom
companies and Skype. I was actually an early stage investor in Skype, and literally people
were referring to it as a toy. Of course, our bet was that over time it would -- it
was a toy at first. People didn't have mics and people -- the sound quality was bad. But,
of course, over time it got much better. And, eventually, it has begun to replace a lot
of the current telecom infrastructure. So I think the list of the top Internet companies
in a decade will be very different than the list today. I think Google will hopefully
be on that list. But one thing I know is that the new ones that appear on that list will
be ones that snuck by because people dismissed them as toys.
Number four, predicting the future of the Internet is easy. Anything it hasn't yet dramatically
transformed it will. The Internet has gone through fits and starts. We had the crash
-- or the bubble, the crash. We are sort of now in a revival. Some people say we are in
another bubble. I don't know what will happen in the near
term. What I do know is that year after year, we see industries that stubbornly refuse or
stubbornly resisted the transformational effects of the Internet eventually topple. Already
transformed: Music, news, advertising, telecom. Being transformed: Finance, commerce, TV and
movies, real estate, politics and government. Soon-to-be transformed: I believe, and hope,
health care, education, energy among others. Thus far, the U.S. has led Internet innovation.
I think in order to continue to do that, we need to do a number of things including export
the e-thoughts of Silicon Valley to the rest of the country. I live in New York, and that's
one of the things we try to do that there. Number two is make sure that people with the
necessary skills are in the right places. I think the most important thing there is
immigration reform. And then the third thing I think is most importantly,
is when I go and speak to college students and I talk to them about what they want to
do, predominantly the best and brightest want to go into law or banking, consulting. And
we need to convince them that -- instead they should go and do innovative things in areas
that matter, which I would argue are education, health care, energy and have a real impact
on people's lives. So my advice is: Get rejected more, climb
the right hill, and create an amazing toy, and build that toy up so that you transform
an important industry. Thank you.