Timing is Everything

 “Skate to where the puck is going.”

The first time I heard Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote was from the lips of a venture capital investor and board member in my first startup launch in 1998. 

The words reinforced our belief that we had a brilliant go-to-market strategy tied to an impending shift in the health-care provider market, opening what we saw as a clear path to market dominance. And then the market changed again— fast. Our customer acquisition slowed, and it was time for a rethink, putting the great hockey player’s words in stark relief.

That said, the same Silicon Valley investor urged pursuit of the Internet as a delivery platform for the electronic health record we were building. The timing seemed right. We knew that was where the puck was going.

At the same time, we knew physicians’ hearts. And we knew the likelihood of a doc trusting the integrity and security of clinical information on a platform known to him or her as AOL’s “you’ve got mail” was next to nil. We didn’t go that direction and made our exit in 1999. We were just a tiny bit too far ahead of the puck, leaving others to score the goal we’d had so clearly in our sights.

What I learned above all else in that period — and what has been reaffirmed again and again — is that timing and markets change constantly. Timing has a lot of variables.

It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me ever since.

Later, I worked on the executive team of a 10-year-old health-tech company whose vision was seeing it through growth of one or two new clients a year. Suddenly, it became a mid-nine-figure acquisition — more than a 10x multiple of its revenues — because of a regulatory change that turned a good idea that had been working hard to find acceptance into a national imperative across an entire industry.

Again, timing was everything. And this time it was in our favor.

Getting the timing right can make or break a new company or an old one. Some fun examples of timing too early and just right are Pets.com vs. Chewy.com or the Apple Newton vs. the iPad Pro. In both cases, the ideas, features and capabilities were nearly identical, but the infrastructure that made the offerings practical not yet fully formed. 

Today Chewy.com is a Florida unicorn, where its predecessor at the advent of the Internet went down spectacularly. And 22 years after the Apple Newton, the iPad Pro is now a flagship of the Apple lineup whereas its predecessor the Newton (1993-1998) barely made an impression (except for the few of us who actually have one).

Coronavirus flips a switch for Orlando-based tech company

I think now about the impact of this serious global situation no one is yet able to interpret as a short- or long-term variable. What I do know is that it is having a devastating impact on key economic drivers for my hometown, Orlando, Florida, and the surrounding area. 

Last week 45,000 people were anticipated for the 58th annual HIMSS conference at our convention center.  Today, when those conventioneers should have been arriving at our airport, riding in our shuttles, buses, taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts, checking into our hotels and eating in our restaurants, operators of all those businesses and the employees who work for them are worried and idle. Just a few miles away at Port Canaveral, tens of thousands embark each week on some of the world’s largest cruise ships. Yet today, share prices for the biggest cruise operators are down by half and the government is telling people to stay ashore.

For my town this pandemic shines a blinding light on our ongoing efforts to diversify our local economy beyond defense and tourism industries. It means that all the work we are collectively doing to evolve and broaden our impact in aerospace, health and life science, sports, smart cities, environmental science, transportation, and social enterprise matters more now than ever before. We’ve been living in a world held up by consumer spending; a fickle and fragile indicator. Humans tend to balance precariously between hope and fear. History tells us that fear tends to be the stronger driver.

Just like the health-tech company acquired for doing the right thing when it mattered, Orlando-based Violet Defense didn’t dream it would be answering calls from every imaginable quarter with orders for its American-made ultra-violet disinfection equipment.

The timing of the coronavirus, COVID-19, flipped the switch for the company.

The routine work of convincing health-care and professional-sports training facilities that a new approach to germ control was a good investment in a safe alternative to chemicals became an unquestionable method for rapid, convenient control of environments at high risk for virus transmission.

So regardless of how long or how deeply coronavirus pushes our fear buttons and impacts individuals, industries, and whole economies, I’ll lean into hope on this one. As a leader in the innovation economy in Central Florida, I can’t wait to see what the enterprising minds I’m privileged to be around every day will bring to life.

As they skate to where the puck is going — or might be going — I expect to see dozens of new ideas from applicants for our next Seed Stage Accelerator cohort, for which applications open next week.

Timing can be everything. That’s why for innovation to succeed we need to constantly strive to understand where the puck is heading. Maybe the time for your idea is now. At StarterStudio, we’re here to help you figure that out.