The unfundable world-changing startup

Some startups are just unfundable but are developing things that change the world. In Barcelona I’ve found one. It won’t be my last, especially since venture capital is a LOT harder to get lately. I’ve been hearing a lot about deals that are falling through because the VCs are lowering valuations by a lot. As Ron Conway told me a few weeks ago it is a buyer’s market for VC now and they can pretty much demand anything they want.

But, this startup probably wouldn’t get funded in usual times. It’s sad, too, because it’s a technology that I really want. In fact, I want it to much that I videoed the founder showing it off so you can get excited about it too.

So, what is it? It’s a database that acts like a wiki. Sounds lame, right? But that’s why it’s unfundable. You need to spend some time with it to get why this is a world changing technology. The inventor, Terry Jones, has been working on it for 11 years. It is very significant new technology. Here, watch Terry on four videos:

Part I. 10 minutes.
Part II. 26 minutes.
Part III. 18 minutes.
Part IV. 11 minutes.

Terry’s blog is here. His company is called “Fluid Info.”

The videos got a long conversation going over on FriendFeed.

Fluid Info will be released in early 2009.

So, why is it unfundable?

1. It’s too general. VC’s don’t like to fund things that really will end up competing with Google or Microsoft. That’s too massive of a challenge and, despite their protestations to the contrary, VCs generally only invest in things that are more defendable than a general “take on Oracle and Microsoft and Google” approach.
2. Terry doesn’t have a team of stars. VCs tell me they say no thousands of times per year. What gets them to say yes? When there’s a team of stars that they’ve worked with before. Terry is just a visionary, to build a business the VC way you need to have a finance guy, a guy who is good at PR, someone who has done it before that can make the VCs feel comfortable. And, you need someone who is expert at the business model being proposed (ie, done it before).
3. Terry doesn’t have adoption. It hasn’t been deployed. He doesn’t have millions of users. VCs are now pretty much only funding things that are seeing sizeable growth and have some track record.
4. The technology is too hard to explain. After watching these videos for an hour you’ll be as excited as I am, but that’s too long. VCs want to understand the real proposition and pain point that it’s solving in a minute or two. Any longer and they’ll just say no.
5. He lives in a place far away from most VCs (most VCs are still in Silicon Valley, or Tel Aviv, Israel, Shanghai, China, London, Tokyo — it’s hard to find VCs outside of those places). That still is a barrier because most early-stage investors, like Jeff Clavier, tell me they will only fund things that are easy for him to drive to. That might be unfair in the age of Twitter and Skype, but a lot of funding events happen because of personal relationships and it’s hard to have those relationships happen when the visionary lives thousands of miles away.

Anyway, I can’t wait to use Terry’s new database and congratulate him on seeing his dream through. How many people would have given up? Hint: visionaries don’t give up on their vision just because they hear “no” a few times.

It’s why I’m very happy I got to spend a few hours over the past couple of days with him. Oh, and thanks to Tim O’Reilly for introducing us on Twitter.

Comments

  1. the funny thing is that for a project I’m thinking about at the moment (which I blogged at my site about on my post on “Radio Schedules 2.0″) what I need is a wiki which handles highly structured data with ease (imports, exports, updates by many people) all while enforcing data structures and allowing for many views (yes in a database sense) into the data, many slices at it, many different ways to sort & search it – and all also ways to export and expose that same data…

    so haven’t yet invested the hour into looking at the videos but I will try to do so very soon

    and my advice, sight unseen, to Terry would be to find a number of folks (perhaps like me) who have business ideas which could build on such a tool and work closely with them to implement – and in the process explore what the right business model(s) might be (and assume it may be more than one)

  2. the funny thing is that for a project I’m thinking about at the moment (which I blogged at my site about on my post on “Radio Schedules 2.0″) what I need is a wiki which handles highly structured data with ease (imports, exports, updates by many people) all while enforcing data structures and allowing for many views (yes in a database sense) into the data, many slices at it, many different ways to sort & search it – and all also ways to export and expose that same data…

    so haven’t yet invested the hour into looking at the videos but I will try to do so very soon

    and my advice, sight unseen, to Terry would be to find a number of folks (perhaps like me) who have business ideas which could build on such a tool and work closely with them to implement – and in the process explore what the right business model(s) might be (and assume it may be more than one)

  3. Thanks Scoble for informing me about this incredible technology. It is only sometimes one sees something and really gets overwhelmed. It happened twice to me this week. First with an interview I had with ex-cyborg Kevin Warwick on already existing robots that drove around and COMPLETELY relied on actual braincells of rats for all its driving decisions (see [url]http://www.ngn.nl/ngn?waxtrapp=tbmxbIsHyoOtvOXEaMzLE[/url].
    And today by the videos you made with Terry.

    All kinds of things pop up in my mind when I think of the implications this technology might have. Although I hate the word, web 3.0 will definitely needs this kind of databases in order to be called the next web.
    It will be very hard to build a businessmodel for Fluid Info in this Intellectual Property world. But man oh man, it will change things around. From a users perspective this will be huge. From a business perspective this can be very scary but also very exciting.

  4. Thanks Scoble for informing me about this incredible technology. It is only sometimes one sees something and really gets overwhelmed. It happened twice to me this week. First with an interview I had with ex-cyborg Kevin Warwick on already existing robots that drove around and COMPLETELY relied on actual braincells of rats for all its driving decisions (see [url]http://www.ngn.nl/ngn?waxtrapp=tbmxbIsHyoOtvOXEaMzLE[/url].
    And today by the videos you made with Terry.

    All kinds of things pop up in my mind when I think of the implications this technology might have. Although I hate the word, web 3.0 will definitely needs this kind of databases in order to be called the next web.
    It will be very hard to build a businessmodel for Fluid Info in this Intellectual Property world. But man oh man, it will change things around. From a users perspective this will be huge. From a business perspective this can be very scary but also very exciting.

  5. Hi Robert.

    Thanks again. I just want to drop a few links here that feel relevant and which give a little more information. The first is the relevant one:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2008/11/10/passion-and-the-creation-of-highly-non-uniform-value/

    This talks about the connection between the creation of value and how obvious that will be to people early on (I argue it must be non-obvious, and hence that rejection is in that sense a good sign).

    On the theme of startup rejection:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2008/11/09/expecting-and-embracing-startup-rejection/

    On the history of what I’ve been doing:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2008/11/09/brief-history-of-an-idea/

    And some posts that give more of the flavor of the kind of change I’m trying to effect:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/category/representation/

    Apologies for so many links!

    Terry

  6. Hi Robert.

    Thanks again. I just want to drop a few links here that feel relevant and which give a little more information. The first is the relevant one:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2008/11/10/passion-and-the-creation-of-highly-non-uniform-value/

    This talks about the connection between the creation of value and how obvious that will be to people early on (I argue it must be non-obvious, and hence that rejection is in that sense a good sign).

    On the theme of startup rejection:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2008/11/09/expecting-and-embracing-startup-rejection/

    On the history of what I’ve been doing:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/2008/11/09/brief-history-of-an-idea/

    And some posts that give more of the flavor of the kind of change I’m trying to effect:

    http://www.fluidinfo.com/terry/category/representation/

    Apologies for so many links!

    Terry

  7. Met this guy at FOO camp and was real interested to learn more about what he’s up to. Glad you did the videos, I’ll have to watch them. He must not be too out of the loop, though, if I ran into him at FOO camp.

  8. Met this guy at FOO camp and was real interested to learn more about what he’s up to. Glad you did the videos, I’ll have to watch them. He must not be too out of the loop, though, if I ran into him at FOO camp.

  9. I will some times get into robotics with something I have here. As this time prvals I’ve not gotten into boboics at this time

  10. I will some times get into robotics with something I have here. As this time prvals I’ve not gotten into boboics at this time

  11. It seems like Terry is trying to centralize all data in the world and make it efficiently searchable, and without doing any “massive joins”. Given the degree of care it takes Amazon to get structured data efficiently distributed, I find it very difficult to believe that letting everyone in the world add unstructured data to an administratively-centralized store is going to scale well. All the “restrictions” put on databases and APIs are there because without the restrictions, such systems run too inefficiently. I’d expect Terry would get investors if he showed how to search for every url random-person-in-the-world has seen that random-other-person-in-the-world hasn’t seen, on a Mac less expensive than the stereo under your desk.

    Sure, you can do wonderful things, if you can get everyone in the world to give you their valuable data and you can do arbitrary searches on the combined data of google, amazon, facebook, friendster, and everyone else that feels like adding data. Assuming you can keep anyone else from simply scraping off your whole database and serving it up without the ads, which is exactly the sort of restriction on APIs that I’m hearing Terry complain about.

  12. It seems like Terry is trying to centralize all data in the world and make it efficiently searchable, and without doing any “massive joins”. Given the degree of care it takes Amazon to get structured data efficiently distributed, I find it very difficult to believe that letting everyone in the world add unstructured data to an administratively-centralized store is going to scale well. All the “restrictions” put on databases and APIs are there because without the restrictions, such systems run too inefficiently. I’d expect Terry would get investors if he showed how to search for every url random-person-in-the-world has seen that random-other-person-in-the-world hasn’t seen, on a Mac less expensive than the stereo under your desk.

    Sure, you can do wonderful things, if you can get everyone in the world to give you their valuable data and you can do arbitrary searches on the combined data of google, amazon, facebook, friendster, and everyone else that feels like adding data. Assuming you can keep anyone else from simply scraping off your whole database and serving it up without the ads, which is exactly the sort of restriction on APIs that I’m hearing Terry complain about.

  13. Watched the first Fluid Info video and I get the idea of combining data and metadata from my days in the web collaboration biz. But, to echo your blog post, I have no idea what Fluid Info is or does . . . at this point.

    This reminds me a lot of the early days of Lotus Notes and its precursor, Agenda. I saw a bunch of Lotus’ presentations. My reaction was that it looked cool. But nobody from Lotus could explain what it was or how it could help an organization.

    Eventually, enough entrepreneurs built good applications on the Notes platform that drove understanding and adoption. I finally figured it out, too, and built a couple of businesses that used Notes’ terrific technology.

  14. Watched the first Fluid Info video and I get the idea of combining data and metadata from my days in the web collaboration biz. But, to echo your blog post, I have no idea what Fluid Info is or does . . . at this point.

    This reminds me a lot of the early days of Lotus Notes and its precursor, Agenda. I saw a bunch of Lotus’ presentations. My reaction was that it looked cool. But nobody from Lotus could explain what it was or how it could help an organization.

    Eventually, enough entrepreneurs built good applications on the Notes platform that drove understanding and adoption. I finally figured it out, too, and built a couple of businesses that used Notes’ terrific technology.