Are you hopeful?

Are you hopeful?
Photo by Nik / Unsplash

In 1972, a group of academics and creative thinkers got together to discuss how kids learn through new devices and mediums (turns out the too-much-iPad-time concern is very old).

Tucked inside this grainy footage is Alan Kay uttering one of the most remarkable things anyone has ever said, at least in terms of product innovation:

Well, this is an existing device, a thing that Hewlett-Packard calls a pocket electronic slide rule. And it turns out that the way they decided to make it was to fit into Bill Hewlett's shirt pocket.

And it had to do everything a slide rule can do, but to 10 places.​

And they had to spend almost an extra year on this thing to keep it to those specifications.

But the power that is has, and the size, and the portability and everything else make it something completely different ... so different that HP expects to sell 3 million of these in the next 5 years.

People who would never buy a calculating machine of any kind, buy these for four hundred dollars. Okay?

So, quantitative changes, if you make them large enough, are qualitative changes.

This should be in the Holy Scriptures of startups:

Quantitative changes, if you make them large enough, are qualitative changes. Alan Kay

When we're slogging through the bog between our original idea and P/M-fit, we're pushing on product, marketing, sales — really, anything not bolted down (and some things that are), to affect quantitative changes.

Qualitative changes are what we hope to see in the world. That sudden, magnificent change we can't control but we nevertheless emerges from the summation of our efforts.

"People who would never buy a calculating machine of any kind buy these for four hundred dollars. Okay?"

Okay, Alan ... yes. Yes!

But why does it have to be this way?

Priming the Pump

My brother has been a firefighter and paramedic for over twenty years. Some of his tales would make for harrowing TV content (mostly Thursday nights on NBC apparently).

Others would be more fittingly cut into a Discovery channel episode hosted by Ron Swanson.

For example, did you know that inside a fire truck is a giant void capable of sucking water out of a natural reservoir, like a lake? In these times, it's not pushing water out. It's a giant vacuum pulling water in. So if a hydrant runs out, a firefighter can elect to slurp up the contents of your neighborhood pond. Total power move if you ask me. (And if I ever see smallmouth bass hurtling towards someone's enflamed home I'll know why.)

But for this to work, the truck has to be primed.

Merriam-Webster defines priming as:

to put into working order by filling or charging with something

If the firefighter wants to see a qualitative change in the world, they have to first put their truck into working order by filling it quantitatively.

Go Prime Yourself

Fits and spurts, lumpiness, the fact that only 1 out of your first 11 founder-led sales conversations made any progress at all despite the fact that they all seemed so qualified: these are all symptoms of a business model that just hasn't been primed.

Now, just like any symptom-based diagnosis, it doesn't mean that the cause is necessarily a lack of volume. But it also doesn't mean it isn't.

In these times, take inspiration from this bad boy:

Behold, the Alfa Lava LKH Self-Priming Pump. Its badass trait? It can start up even when it contains air.

Air is those 10 conversations with qualified prospects that went no where. Air is not finding any meaningful insights this week. Air is the feature you released that they love (they've even told you).

All this effort ... now where is the qualitative change in the world we ordered?!

This is what makes entrepreneurs special. "When a standard centrifugal pump encounters air pockets, it can refuse to operate."

Ha, those standard pumps. Take them out of that steady stream of inbound leads, remove just a bit of their market momentum ... they'll seize up and refuse to operate. A little air to the average employee is dumbfounding.

To you it's just another day.

'Of course there's nothing to start! What did you expect?'

From whence cometh this spunk?

"In comparison to a standard centrifugal pump, what’s notable in the design of a self-priming centrifugal pump is that it features a liquid reservoir built into the body of the pump. This reservoir allows the pump to rid the pump’s body and suction line of air during the priming cycle, replacing it with liquid from the reservoir that is blended into the residual air."

You press forward, not confusing a lack of qualitative change just yet as some kind of bad omen. You consume the air of this stupid week, knowing that small numbers can lie.

You push along the flat part of the curve knowing in your mind that what precedes all breakthroughs is a steady stream of lessons.

And your heart? It's primed, with a reservoir of hope.