Why early birds never get laid

a horny bird

It took me a while to figure this one out. I guess I’m a little slow, or maybe it’s just not that obvious.

Only too often we see startups fail simply because the market wasn’t ready for their products just yet. I call this the prematurity phenomena.

My first encounter with the prematurity phenomena was back in ’99 when I set out to create the first ever virtual reality web browser. Yeah ’99, as in 1999.

The idea was to create a web browser that would render a three dimensional world out of existing websites in a way that would allow users to discover content intuitively. We wanted to provide web developers with a simple SDK that would let them create amazing online 3D environments and publish them alongside their existing 2D sites.

It took us about 16 months to complete the development of the technology and pack it into a real product. Our team did amazing things back then. We  were pushing the envelope in terms of coping with lousy internet speeds (pre broadband) and next-to-none hardware acceleration (getting 3D from the average crappy PC was very challenging) . We even developed our own 3D compression and streaming engine that allowed our 3D worlds to load faster than traditional 2D sites.

There was one thing I didn’t take into consideration back then, people were just not ready for 3D (and they still aren’t). The ideas we had were probably 20 years premature. Years later, when Apple launched their Cover Flow design, and Microsoft their Flip 3D experience, it felt that something might have changed. There was now a chance for broader market embracement of the 3D experience on the PC.

Apple and Microsoft took different approaches with their 3D experiences, but their launch strategy had something in common: They both released their new UI pretty quietly, exposing it only in non-critical product flows. In other words, they did not force the new technology on their users. In fact, Apple introduced Cover Flow in iTunes, their guinea pig for experimental UI, while MS did not even bother to promote the new experience and made it very hard to get to in their OS. It took some time for Cover Flow to make its debut into the OS X and later iOS. I guess Apple and MS realized that there was a big risk in launching 3D à la Big Bang.

Apple and Microsoft you are cowards, or maybe your're smart?

In the company’s final board meeting, we concluded that our concept was simply premature. The market wasn’t ready for primetime 3D in the browser. I have no doubt that browsers will get there, even if it’s through augmented reality or any other technology that we can’t even imagine right now. It’s just a matter of letting time take its course.

The fact of the matter is, that the company didn’t survive, and honestly it shouldn’t have. In hindsight, I know that it would have taken us 20 years just to get closer to market sync, and it would have cost us hundreds of millions just to educate users which doesn’t make sense unless you’re in the money laundering business.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine I was starting that same company today. First of all, I’m not sure I’d even start it. Looking at the plays made by Apple and Microsoft in that space, I would have probably been scared off and dropped the entire thing. If I were to bet on the project despite this, we would probably plug into an existing mainstream product such as Apple’s Cover Flow. I’m not saying it would have changed everything, but at least we would have saved a ton of cash in the development of an MVP that would have been able to touch the market shortly after. Doing so would have given us the opportunity to test our ideas with live users and gain traction or fail fast if need be.

late birds getting it going in the bushes while the early bird is left to its own devices.

Arriving too early to a party sucks. You spend tons of energy entertaining lame dudes, bearing the awkwardness of an empty room and eventually leaving just before the things get hot.

When playing with a new idea for a startup, just be honest with yourself. As cool as it may be in your mind, try to think if this is a product people (and you) will actually use TODAY.

5 thoughts on “Why early birds never get laid

  1. Your predictions for the 3D printer? And for advertisers starting to throw augmented reality to the masses? Too early?
    I hope not, I want to start playing already.

  2. So it was you? I remember that 3D browser from 1999 – 2000 … I really loved the concept, I had no idea it was an Israeli thing ;-) at the time I was one of the founders of another 3D startup (Enbaya) which turned out to be too early to market as well.

      • Well, join the club of 3D wishful thinkers… in Enbaya we solved the problem of displaying high detail animated 3D objects in a browser, by storing them compressed in a unique layered structure, and streaming and reconstructing in real time on the browser. We had some amazing working customers website in 2001 (Jewelery, toys, pokemons…) and we were sure this is the next thing is presentation technology. After the bubble burst we converted it to an in-memory compression SDK cor game consoles and sold the Intellectual Property and code to Activision. I am still waiting for the day web experience will be really 3D…

  3. Loved the 3D browser, played with it for a while back in 2001. I do have a little questioning about your reasoning, you assume that the world wasn’t ready for 3d, but in my experience the 3D browser was for browsing and experiencing discovery, but when I go online it’s usually with a known objective I want to achieve, and 3d browsing on the web just doesn’t support it. So it might be that the product was just did not fit the users needs.
    To summarize the feeling:

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