Remember this: you’re not normal


What you want, what you like, what you think, is not normal. In fact, the phrase ‘you are not normal’ is used so often in the FIG office that it could reasonably called a cliché. The reason for its frequent use is because it is very easy to forget that not everyone thinks like you – especially today.

Today, millions have easy access to the Internet in the UK and billions have access worldwide. The Internet connects so many people that it is possible to find people who think like you, who have the same interests as you and maybe even face the same problems as you. As a result, many people often mistakenly believe that their experiences and opinions to be the norm. Subsequently, would-be founders of companies come to FIG telling us that they have a business idea that ‘loads of people will pay for’ – an assumption they’ve reached because they ‘know’ or ‘have met’ other people on the web who are like them and will pay for and use their proposed service.

More often than not, the founders and their cohorts are only potential users (often potential website members), not even customers. All too frequently, they are mythical online advertisers who are apparently all too willing to pay through the nose to reach people like the would-be-founder. So the house of cards keeps getting taller and taller.

The would-be founder has found some community that they connect with. Their first assumption is that they face the same problem as them. The next assumption is that their proposed solution will be adopted. The next assumption is that someone (often not the users) will pay for this solution. They are three very big assumptions.

All businesses are based on assumptions. Assumptions are fine, so long as they are well justified. The worst response to give, in our eyes, when challenged on the above is to say “well this company did it and they sold out for a gazillion dollars”. It seems that the stock response from anyone with an idea for an iPhone app to being challenged is to point at Rovio’s Angry Birds, quote their sale price in the tens of millions of the currency of their choosing, then jump up and down, clap, wink repeatedly, whilst clearly picking out the interior designs for their future yacht…

Rovio are an exception, not the rule. You may reach their dizzying heights, but you’ve got to show us how you are going to do it if you want our help, not just imply that if someone can do it, anyone can do it, therefore you can do it. That is flawed logic built on flawed assumptions.

When I was at university, I took a summer internship with a company called Lokku – the people behind the property search engine The company was founded by Ed Freyfogel and Javier Extebese – two incredibly bright individuals who had been around the block and were already heads of their industry having reached senior positions at Yahoo! They were two brilliant people to learn under, both with very different management styles, both very driven and capable. They know how to launch a website. When I joined their team, they had a printed A4 sheet on the wall with the company’s core philosophies on it, such as “More features do not equal more users. More features equals more work”. Their simplicity and message was, and is, brilliant. I believed that every phrase that they had written on that wall was insightful – so much so, that the exact same phrases are printed and on display in our boardroom at FIG.

They are printed on the wall to serve as touchstones and I often point to one in particular: ‘opinions don’t count; we will make decisions based on numbers’. That’s ‘geek’ for ‘you are not normal’, and a core philosophy that people far more intelligent than me have built a successful business on.

James King is director at Find Invest Grow