Startups Should Take After Weeds

Growing up in Oregon I remember how adamant my dad was when it came to landscaping around our house.  His primary goal was to avoid having to mow a lawn at all costs.  I guess the fact that when he grew up he had to shove a push lawn mower around a pretty big yard left a negative yet indelible mark on him.  As a result, he opted for a barkdust yard covered with rose bushes, pine trees and other plants.

For me as a kid I never had to mow a lawn, yes.  But I can tell you that I spent a hell of a lot of time pulling weeds.  What I remember about those Saturday or Sunday weed pulling sessions was how some weeds were pretty easy to yank out, while others seemed to grow so fast and expansively that I never really could get ahead of them.  In some ways, “weeds” are a good metaphor for startups — maybe a way to think about how to assess startups in the current economic environment.

Take for instance the fact that some of the most successful weeds growing in our yard didn’t require us to water or feed them.  They just grew organically (no pun intended).  One could say that these weeds were very capital efficient.  A good lesson for startups today.  Get something going with your product and business concept with as little outside love and support as possible.  I personally love the stories of startups that took a few hundred thousand dollars of angel or friends & family money and were able to grow themselves in to a profitable business.  Maybe the folks at Survey Monkey fit this example?

Another characteristic of successful weeds from my Oregon days was whether a weed stayed low to the ground and expanded horizontally versus sprouting up vertically.  The most frustrating weeds to deal with were the ground huggers — they threw their roots down across a wide area, much like startups that grow fast by being applicable to a broad base of users or customers as opposed to a narrow or singular market.  Twitter is today’s marquee example of a weed that doesn’t have an overly complex root system (e.g. product feature set) but it appeals to an ever widening range of users and use cases.

And of course the most telling example of a successful weed was its persistence.  Some weeds I could yank out and pretty much know that I wouldn’t see them back around the yard ever again.  But the real sticklers were the ones that even after a full day of pulling them out came back within a couple days.  Startups need to be persistence in this way given that they’re always being yanked at by competitors and customers.  The teams that can take a few hits, pivot in a different direction and find a new patch of barkdust to grow in so to speak, are the weeds, I mean startups that are most interesting to back.

Maybe I should create a Facebook app called “If you were a startup company, why kind of plant would you be?”.  Anyone who answers:  “A weed”, might be worth meeting for coffee?

One thought on “Startups Should Take After Weeds

  1. Like this.

    I beleive in the future there will be only 2 viable strategies for startups… The “Weed” model above, and the “Tuileries” model that takes just the opposite approach, using lots of capital to create something spectacular and enduring.

    Plants in the middle will be hurting once the VC deadpool (inevitably) begins to accelerate.

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