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

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).