“Why Now?” is a Weak Question

A startup’s fate isn’t sealed the day it’s founded — entrepreneurs *make* them happen over time.

“Why Now?”

Most VCs will ask this.

But this question misses great startups. Investors are asking if your opportunity is:

🤖 New tech?

👽 Emerging user behavior?

⚖️ Regulatory change?

Major macro shifts matter, but special founders are often overlooked as key vector of success.

Uber emerged partially because:

📱 Smartphones (and GPS) became widely available

💸 There was a lot of slack in the workforce

💳 People were increasingly comfortable transacting online/mobile

But there’s no similarly clear reason why GoFundMe emerged in 2010 and not 2004.

“Why now?” misses great startups:

💬 Slack was dismissed for being a more polished ICQ

🎦 Zoom was the 137th video conferencing tool

💊 PillPack was founded in 2013, but arguably viable in 2003

🛏️ Airbnb commercialized a behavior that Craigslist pioneered a decade before

An economic historian would argue that these gaps in innovation are rounding errors, and that half-decade lags are insignificant, but in the world of tech, 5 years is a lifetime.

By focusing on “why now?” we overestimate macro/technical factors and diminish founder agency.

Startups aren’t just ideas. They’re not destined to be born. They’re not fated to turn out the way they have.

They happen because entrepreneurs *make* them happen.

Successful startups are made, not born.

The “Why Now?” can be that an entrepreneur sees the opportunity for a new workplace collaboration tool while building a video game. Or they need to make rent with no assets other than an air mattress. Or they’re simply obsessed with a problem in a way no one else was.

This doesn’t mean “Why Now?” is a bad question; just that it is a very narrow one. Macro shifts are good opportunities to look for investments. However, an overemphasis on ideas and market shifts (i.e., themes) will lead one to miss many opportunities.

It’s easy to pay lip service to the importance of founders — harder to remember that founders will these startups to success. Tech and demographics are shifting all the time. It requires a special person who can see the opportunity and has the skills/resilience to act on it.

It’s said, “there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” but ideas are wildly overrated and pretty much worthless until there’s an entrepreneur with the capability and will to endure the challenge of proving an idea’s worth.

Managing Partner Eric Paley recently shared this as a tweetstorm.

Our mission is to be the most aligned VC for founders at seed. #ProudInvestor in @Uber @TheTradeDeskinc @Buzzfeed @Cruise @Diaandco @PillPack @SeatGeek & more.

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