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Experts Wanted

Experts Wanted

by Chandler

Posted on 13 June 2016

A key filter for accepting teams into Flashpoint is expertise. By expertise, we mean substantial time and focus and achievement in a particular area that relates to the area of your business. We don’t care about expertise because we want to support companies that address a problem the team noticed in their previous jobs. We also don’t care about it out of an opportunity to do “x for y,” businesses, where “x” is something that made money in another field, and “y” is the field your team can work in. We care about expertise for an entirely different reason, because it’s a proxy for something we can’t gauge directly, which is an eye for salience.

An eye for salience means that of all the infinite phenomena in the world around you, you pay attention to the ones that are salient to your eventual customers and your eventual business. If you’re interested in helping big box retail stores do marketing, you need to have an eye for what’s salient to big box retail; if you want to write apps for florists, you need to have an eye to what’s salient for florists.

We’ve never admitted a team that required expertise in poetry, but I’ll take poetry as an example:

Consider the poem:

Jack be nimble Jack be quick

Jack jump over the candlestick

If someone said to you: “I remember that poem, it goes:

Jack be nimble Jack be quick

Jack jump over the candle flame.”

Chances are, even if you didn’t happen to remember the poem, you would perk up and think there’s something wrong with that last word. Most people have a sufficient eye (or in this case ear) for language to pay attention to rhyme.

Suppose now that someone said to you: “I remember the first line of that poem, it goes:

Jack be nimble Jack hurry up.”

There’s a larger group, maybe including a lot of really brilliant and focused computer scientists, who wouldn’t notice anything wrong with that version. It says the same thing, doesn’t it?

But somebody with an ear for salience in poetry would say “wait a minute, there’s something wrong with that.”

If that person had actually studied poetry, they might have words to put around that feeling of wrongness, something like “that line sets up a trochaic tetrameter, (a particular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables). but the end doesn’t scan.” But in many, many cases, the salient thing doesn’t happen to have a name. If the poem read:

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick

Jack repair the candlestick

It would still feel wrong to them, it would still draw their attention for it’s wrongness, even though there isn’t a name for the problem, as far as I know*.

Entrepreneurs who don’t have an eye for salience in the field where they’re trying to identify authentic demand are effectively stumbling around in the dark. It’s impossible to test every phenomenon for salience. For one thing, they’re infinite. How many things are you looking at right now? How many are you hearing? More importantly, if something isn’t salient to you, it will not be among the things you are seeing or hearing, even if they are physically stimulating your optic nerve or vibrating your eardrum, you will filter them out at a preconscious level.

It could take you years to develop an ear for what you’re customers are paying attention to. You’ll end up testing irrelevant things and spinning your wheels, as many startup do. So if you’re not an expert in the relevant field, don’t try to start a business there. If you’re committed to an area you don’t have an eye for, then, get a job there. That way, you’ll get paid for acquiring an ear, instead of spending money.

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*The problem with “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick; Jack repair the candlestick”

is that it “fixes” the exact problem with the meter that makes the poem so clever. Substituting “..[re]pair the…” makes the whole poem scan perfectly. The cleverness of the true version is that the foot “over the” swaps in a different pattern, playing off the meaning as you root for Jack making it over that candlestick without burning himself.