18 March, 2020 — time of the virus

Last night I decided to go to bed early. Then my good friend, JP, messaged me on our shared slack workspace. Some of the people on this Slack space I’ve known for ~18 years, way back since the days of IRC. Our interactions consisting mostly of online chats. They have taught me to hack, code and to some degree shaped how I see the world. Some of them are highly intelligent (like JP) so when they talk, I listen.

JP and I ended up chatting until 1am in the morning about the god damned virus and how he can spot these patterns of disaster coming months ahead of time, before anyone else really starts paying attention. One of the things he said to me, really made me think.

Translated into the queen’s English:

“As much as things are going bad…. the people with the necessary wealth to move fast… they will be the first vultures when things start to stabilise again.”

On Vultures

Before I continue, let’s just say something about vultures. Vultures are very special birds. They get a bad rap for two reasons: 1) they are highly unattractive and 2) they benefit off another’s bad fortune.

As humans, we are disgusted by this type of behaviour. We are conditioned from young that you should not delight in another’s pain. Yet the vulture fills a crucial niche in our ecosystems, and they are really good at spotting opportunities (as opportunists). And besides, perhaps we also advanced from a type of ancestral opportunist scavenger, one that transitioned at some point from a plant-eating primate to a meat eating early-man (and -woman), and now transitioning back again to eating only plants. So no judging vultures!

On Opportunities

A human should not strive to be a vulture. In the bigger picture, exploitative and anti-social behaviour leads to a weaker society as is evident in South Africa, our land. I am willing to bet it would be difficult for vultures to live in large societies like penguins, but unfortunately my knowledge of birds is lacking. Yet the vultures highlight a point — that there are opportunities to be exploited. My response to JP was:

I think your mindset is too rigid, there will be good deals that would be fair to grab, not necessarily vulture territory.

I realised that he was right and I had to start looking for the opportunities, and tonight I had a thought about it:

Any supplier today will be:

  • potentially more willing to negotiate on price
  • quiet, due to decreased demand (spare capacity)

In other words, if one had a good idea for a startup and a solid business plan, now would be a good time to enter the market. In times like these we tend to get scared and clutch to what we have, so we don’t feel optimistic about risky ventures. But consider the advantages a startup has:

  • Low burn: An early stage startup runs off a shoe string budget. There’s no need to pay salaries, medical, pension, tax or anything like that — there are no profits yet and the founders are burning their own savings or convinced a family member, friend or fool to sponsor them.
  • Agile: Here’s a truth I learnt working with Stellenbosch tech-startup industry legends like Malan Joubert, Marcus Swanepoel and Riaan Conradie— no successful founder knew what they were building when they started. The good ones start with some ideal and just start working towards it from where they are. The bad ones start with money in mind, or get distracted by it along the way. Finding Product Market Fit is far more important than building whatever you have in mind at the start of the game.
  • In a buyer’s market: Even though (and because) startups don’t have money, they can negotiate great deals with suppliers. Suppliers and event organisers tend to be more friendly in terms of price when it comes to startups.

Some disadvantages can also be turned around. Instead of worrying about reduced market demand, consider that initially you seek those early adopters — the ones that truly care about your product. In a stressed market your first customers might turn out to be your best, and help guide the development of your product.

It’s not all doom and gloom, maybe today is your day.

Do you have any good startup ideas? Let’s discuss it in the comments :)

Building Bitcoin Infrastructure since 2013