The Wired 2012 event kicked off today with a host of interesting and inspiring speakers talking about their work and the future of technology.
One interesting theme that turned up from the talks was that many of the very successful speakers admitted they had no idea what they were doing when they started up.
For those who are taking their first steps into the entrepreneurial world, the path can seem daunting; there may be tears before bedtime, but it’s good to remember that even in the scariest moments, you won’t be the first young company to have that feeling that you have no clue what’s going on.
Michael Acton Smith, founder and CEO of Mind Candy took to the stage to explain the journey of Moshi Monsters from sketches on a notepad in a cafe in London’s Battersea to the global phenomena it is today.
But the company is not without uncertain moments. “A few years into the Moshi journey we realised that children loved the characters and stories so much that we might be able to take them from the online space to the offline,” said Acton Smith.“We did a deal with Penguin to make Moshi books and then we made trading cards, some toys and cartoons. Now we’re working on the first Moshi film which is coming out next year.
“We never really knew if this was going to work,” he continued. “It’s been phenomenal, we’ve been making it up as we go along but last year we sold well over a hundred million dollars worth of Moshi Monsters products and it’s going to be a lot more this year.”
Making it up as you go along might sound suicidal, but it is often the way that innovation goes. If you’re creating something that has not been seen before, there will be no template. There will be no reassuring guide. You’ve just got to take the risk and work your butt off to see it through.
David Karp, founder and CEO of Tumblr chatted with Wired’s Associate Editor Tom Cheshire about the origins of his wildly successful platform. Cheshire pointed out that Tumblr has become a pop culture phenomena that has almost single-handedly resurrected the animated gif – was this the plan?
“It definitely wasn’t the plan,” said Karp. “Something that we cherish today is that some of the most compelling and fun new media is being made on Tumblr. It gets us out of bed in the morning.”
So how did it all start? “I was running a little software development shop at the time,” Karp went on to explain. “I was about two years into my little company Davidville. We literally had two weeks in between contracts and I said let’s just go for it, I’ve been thinking about this thing for two years. Let’s just see if we can knock it out. The first version was very modest and we didn’t want it to be really anything more than the ability to post text, quotes, links, audio and video.”
From that little acorn, Tumblr has gone on to carry around 77 million blogs and 13.4 million unique visitors in the United States. Not bad for a project started between contracts.
The dark moments where you’re feeling a bit lost can return as fond memories when you have shown the world that your business is a winner.
In the afternoon at the event, Wired’s Editor David Rowan picked Michael Lynch OBE out of the audience. Lynch sold Autonomy to Hewlett Packard in 2011 for $11.7 billion. He now looks for new ventures to fund and is still excited by new technologies. But he did point out that his ride was not entirely smooth.
“I’m back to doing all the fun bits,” he told Rowan. “When we first started we didn’t know what we were doing and no one would talk to us, no one would give us any money. But we’ve fixed those things and we get to look at great technology and meet people who are doing amazing things and see if we can help them actually get that stuff to make an impact on the world.”
One thing that Wired 2012 taught us today is that although there can be big risks and heavy moments, being an entrepreneur can also be the time of your life. Each of the company CEOs and leaders that took to the stage clearly showed that their businesses were not just a way to make money, but very much a part of who they are.
So, if you’ve taken the plunge and sometimes think, “I have no idea what I’m doing”. Don’t sweat it too much, it seems you might be in good company.