Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fat Can Work, But Lean More Often Does

Ben Horowitz: The Case For The Fat StartUp
There are only two priorities for a start-up: Winning the market and not running out of cash. Running lean is not an end..... Sometimes running fat is the right thing to do.....Running fat meant that I laid off zero software engineers so that we could keep on investing in our technology, find our product/market fit, and build a lasting technological advantage..... the only thing worse for an entrepreneur than start-up hell (bankruptcy) is start-up purgatory..... Start-up purgatory occurs when you don’t go bankrupt, but you fail to build the No. 1 product in the space.
Fred Wilson: Being Fat Is Not Healthy
Ben and his partner Marc Andreessen. They have started and built multiple successful businesses and all I do is write checks...... I have never, not once, been successful with an investment in a company that raised a boatload of money before it found traction and product market fit with its primary product.....The very best investments that I have been involved in established product market fit before raising a lot of money. That's how Geocities did it. That's how Twitter did it. That's how Zynga did it..... they had significant user or customer adoption before ramping up hiring and spend..... it is very hard to be nimble and quick when you have hundreds (or even dozens) of engineers and other employees....Ben explains that Loudcloud raised $350mm in four rounds of financing (including an IPO) in the first 15 months of its life. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz can do that. Most of you can not.
Albert Wegner: The Sui Generis Startup
There are extremely few people in the world that can raise money for super high burn businesses on the strength of their vision and reputation.
Ben Horowitz: The Revenge Of The Fat Guy
Fred is one of my favorite VCs .... Product market fit isn’t a one-time, discrete point in time that announces itself with trumpet fanfares....Some companies achieve primary product market fit in one big bang. Most don’t, instead getting there through partial fits, a few false alarms, and a big dollop of perseverance..... I show below that Fred himself didn’t realize that Loudcloud had achieved product market fit even though we had...... We had to rebuild completely and would ultimately find product market fit in a different set of markets altogether....... the best markets are usually the ones in which competition is fierce because the opportunity is big...... Twitter (one of Fred’s brilliant investments) ..... Twitter is more exceptional than Loudcloud or Opsware..... Marc had moved on to found Ning and I was the CEO who nearly ran Loudcloud into the wall.
The real answer to this debate is there is no one size fits all. Fat or thin is right depending on what business cycle the economy is going through, depends on what stage the startup is in, depends on what the eventual size of its market and the startup's share of that market ends up being. There can only be so many Googles, and so many Facebooks. Most startups end up being neither and still succeeding. You can absolutely make the case for fat, but overall it is the lean startup that wins. Fat is few and far between. Some of the fat ones might be some of the biggest winners, but they will still be a numerical minority, a super minority. So if it is about betting, I'd bet on lean. Especially for early stage, definitely go lean. But a startup can start lean and go fat later. There is no one formula.

Loudcloud/Opsware is clearly a fat success story, but that does not make it the norm. The number of lean success stories far outnumber the fat success stories.

Ben and Fred come across as two large size figures in the tech industry who both have much respect for each other. That makes this debate extra interesting. There is this with-all-due-respect deference from both sides. You could argue this whole debate was masterminded by two heavyweights to pay compliments to each other.

Both are right. There is no one formula. The disagreement is in nuances. Ben has done fat well. Fred has done lean well, and many, many times. Can't argue with track records of success. Or maybe you can. Hence the blog posts and counter blog posts.

Ben saying "Twitter is more exceptional than Loudcloud or Opsware" had me chuckling. The statement is so very true.

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