Ideas matter, but clear-seeing matters more (Ricky Weekly #4)

This is an experiment where I share 3 things every week with my friends and potentially anyone interested. I’ll share 1 thing on my mind, 1 piece of content I recommend, and 1 picture from my life. I’ll try to do this for the next two months on Sundays. Feedback is encouraged.

A picture from my life:

This is me at an open mic yesterday (PC: Nikil Viswanathan). This is my 10th mic of all time. My standup “career” started with 8 open mics and then did a paid performance which was pretty dope. And then I stopped for two months until some friends pushed me to go again recently, so this is the 2nd mic with brand new material that I’m still working out. Standup is fun and low stakes. I’d like to make everything I do fun and low stakes. Maybe I’ll write about it in the next update.

Thing on my mind:

In doing startups (NOT standup, ha) I used to think ideas are cheap and execution is all that matters. Now I think ideas matter a lot, so as I’ve been exploring I’ve also been thinking about what that actually means. Idea vs execution is probably a false dichotomy. VCs try really hard to reduce ideas into something that can be analyzed. For example, they might focus on giant, fragmented markets with low customer satisfaction. They might look for the potential of network effects or technological platform shift. They might focus on a notable change in regulation or a secular trend. All these are good attempts and after almost a decade working in the valley they’ve become platitudes to me. Smart people can make a strong analytical case out of any pursuit. The funny thing is that Uber was a deal that everyone saw and no one invested in because the black car and cab markets looked too small.

But that analysis is still worth doing and it’s worth doing constantly. Ideas always morph as you go, and they often morph to the point where they’re unrecognizable. Great entrepreneurs have a strong understanding of what is actually interesting when an idea interacts with the markets and produces feedback loops, and I think that understanding comes from constant analysis but also A LOT of intuition from executing a ton in the past and seeing all kinds of feedback loops from that. After all, the “analysis” we all do is basically using the parts of our intuition that we were able to distill and label. The rest we process in the background as “intuition.”

Often when less experienced entrepreneurs come ask to me for advice, they are essentially telling me about the feedback loops they are experiencing. They know how to do basic analysis because #VCTwitter and blogs have essentially democratized startup strategy, but what they are getting from me is my intuitive interpretation of what is actually interesting about their feedback loops using my slightly more experienced lens.

The problem with founders is that they are too close to their projects, so they can’t see it clearly enough to apply the analysis and intuition. Experienced founders are more clear-eyed about their projects because they know not seeing clearly is extremely costly and leads to a lot more pain and torment down the road. I think that’s where I’m at or at least where I try to be.

Piece of content I recommend:

My friend Nancy Hua wrote this wonderful personal essay on her Facebook called “Samsara.” It reminds me of “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu and this recent interview with Ocean Vuong. Asian Americans writing about their families. Gut-wrenching.

Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers out there!

As always, you can find out what I’m thinking in more real-time on Twitter and my blog posts are on my website. My most recent blog post is called “The next Silicon Valley is already online.”