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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Analog Analog – How to Explain Your Idea to a VC

Comments (17)

Allen Morgan at Mayfield has a nice series up on his blog about the ten commandments for entrepreneurs.  His post today is Commandment #6: Explain Your New Ideas by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas.

He’s right.  Mostly.  At the end of his post, he asks for ways to “categorize the new ‘It’” (if they are VCs).  My constructive addition to his post is the notion of the analog analog (also known as the “analog analogue”, but I like my version better).

In the mid 1990’s, I met Jerry Colonna, we invested in a few companies together, and became very close friends.  I love Jerry and – while I rarely see him since he’s in NY and I’m in Boulder – I feel connected to him in a way that’s unique.  Maybe it was our joint experiences together, maybe it was something we drank one night, or maybe it was merely a cosmic connection – in any case, I smile whenever I think of the things I’ve learned from him and the experiences we have had together.

One day, when we were talking about a deal, Jerry knocked me on my ass by saying “what’s the analog analog?”  In true Feld fashion, I responded with a “huh?”  Jerry went on to explain his theory of the analog analog (which I’ve written about before) – specifically that every great technology innovation (or technology business) has a real world, non-digital analogy.  It’s not the “nothing new is ever invented” paradigm – rather it’s the “learn from the past” paradigm.

I’ve found this to be a much more powerful lens to look through when evaluating a new business than the “technology analog” lens (which is the one Allen is describing in his post).  While “Tivo for the Web” or “eBay meets CNN” are useful analogies, I recommend entrepreneurs take a giant step back – out of the technology domain (or at least our current technology domain) – and get to the core analogy – optimally a non-digital one.  Then – walk forward from the analog analog through other analogies to the current idea.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard the cliche “history repeats itself” over and over again.  This is never more true then in the computer industry.  Earlier this morning, I wrote about Ryan’s post on Mr. Moore in the Datacenter and alluded to the migration from mainframe to web to ASP to SaaS (aren’t they all different versions of the same thing?).

All hail the analog analog – the more things change, the more they stay the same (ok – that’s a cliche also).

  • http://blog.justbe.com/jb/2005/03/allen_morgans_t.html jB: no – that's

    Allen Morgan's ten commandments for entrepreneurs: Explain Your New Ideas by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas

    I came across Allen Morgan's latest commandment for entrepreneurs (6th out of 10 he plans to post) named Explain Your New Idea by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas on Brad Feld's blog who adds a little bit of his own perspective to the topic. Bot…

  • http://blog.justbe.com/jb/2005/03/allen_morgans_t.html jB: no – that's

    Allen Morgan's ten commandments for entrepreneurs: Explain Your New Ideas by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas

    I came across Allen Morgan's latest commandment for entrepreneurs (6th out of 10 he plans to post) named Explain Your New Idea by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas on Brad Feld's blog who adds a little bit of his own perspective to the topic. Bot…

  • http://blog.justbe.com/jb/2005/03/allen_morgans_t.html jB: no – that’s definitely not good enough

    Allen Morgan’s ten commandments for entrepreneurs: Explain Your New Ideas by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas

    I came across Allen Morgan’s latest commandment for entrepreneurs (6th out of 10 he plans to post) named Explain Your New Idea by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas on Brad Feld’s blog who adds a little bit of his own perspective to the topic. Bot…

  • http://www.kbcafe.com Randy Charles Morin

    Great thoughts! I’m subscribed!

  • http://www.geekfun.com eas

    I like the thought, but you know what would be really killer? An example of an analog-analog rather than just offering Tivo-for-the-web as a negative example.

    Perhaps a “Cherry-pitter for information?” I have no idea what that describes, but I’d probably buy one if it worked.

  • http://entrepreneur.typepad.com/sideblog/2005/03/the_analog_anal.html Sideblog
  • cliff

    This is supported by cognitive theory, and the concept that if you relate a new idea to a concept that a person already understands, you make it easier for them to understand the new idea and integrate it into long-term memory.

  • Gator

    I posted this thought on Alan’s blog, but thought I might do it here as well. 1) the analogy should FOLLOW the description, not lead into it. Example, TiVo for the web. Not clear what that means initially until its explained, and the last thing you want to do is confuse someone before you even get started. So close with the analogy, dont lead with it. 2) Set clear parameters on your analogy, because any analogy extrapolated far enough becomes invalid, and pseudo intellectuals (ie associates) love to show off how smart they are by trying to disprove someone in the room in front of their boss. And being forced to admit later that your analogy lacks overall consistency makes you look like your ideas are half-baked and not thought through enough, even if the inconsistencies aren’t relevant. Best to frame the analogy before some young jerk does it for you.

  • omri

    it reminds me of the way screenwriters in Hollywood use to explain what their new script is about. something like: “Speed meets top gun” (an F-15 hijack movie); or “Greese meets Rain Man” (a dance contest taking place in a school for mentally retarded), etc…

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