Sunday, July 28, 2013

Been a while; I might be back

It's been a good long while since I've written here. A great deal of upheaval in my business had silenced me. Just over a year ago, I laid off the last my employees, at the culmination of a three-year R&D effort for the U.S. Navy. The work had been progressing, and our client was satisfied with our progress and prototype, but (due to reductions in funding and shifts in priorities) we were unable to attract either follow-on R&D funding, or outside investment, at least in the immediate term.

As a researcher, I continue to believe in the effort, and remain convinced that a lacuna still exists in the technology that will be filled by what I've got under development. But the funding isn't accessible in the short-term to support my full-time working on it, nor to support a business solely focused on it. There were some attempts to extend the scope, to find adjacent efforts, but I have so far been unable to leverage the core technology in a new viable direction. I believe that some technologies just take time to develop. As I've written before, it took the Pixar crew more than 20 years, and probably close to a million hours of effort to finally achieve Toy Story. They were lucky in having funding throughout that period, and clearly in the end it paid off.

Shy of finding a series of billionaire investors with a long view and patience, I am left putting the research on the back burner for a while as I focus on the need to sustain my family financially. One lesson I have learned is that running a research-based business may be hardest when the founder is strongly attached to the research and results. That is, often a business requires dramatic shifts in approach, in subject, in product, in service, which can only be accomplished with sufficient personal distance.

Put another way, it's one thing to be interested in marriage, or in buying a house, and quite another thing to be committed to a particular person or offering. I don't regret my personal attachment to the research I have been conducting. But I do recognize that as an entrepreneur, that attachment gets in the way of pivoting to achieve a viable business model.

That said, there is nothing that holds me back from new ventures which will afford me that distance, likely providing a clearer path to achieving success, and the hope that I might return to this effort down the road, when I have more freedom to pursue it. I think of this as the Elon Musk approach: make your millions first, then do what strikes your fancy. Musk has been able to found and lead Tesla Motors and SpaceX after having achieved success with PayPal. It's not to say that what was achieved with PayPal was not worthwhile, that it didn't have a positive impact on people's lives and on facilitating business and financial transactions. But something tells me he's far more passionate and personally attached to those newer ventures.

So, I've entered that journey. I expect to write about it here.