Working hard, working smart and Google Glasses

I was in Washington about a month ago attending a three-day entrepreneurship blitzkrieg of sorts, Startup Weekend DC. Aspiring entrepreneurs huddled together, chalked out ideas and built basic products based on their ideas — all in one weekend.

To give you a few examples of some of the products hammered out: Someone built a smartphone app to help consumers buy wines; another entrepreneur built an online marketplace to digitize the banner advertising industry; curiously, someone also programmed an entirely new alternative to Minecraft.

As the pool of 17 entrepreneurs present demonstrated their final products, I could see certain trends emerge that perhaps explained why some of the entrepreneurs were more successful than others. In the larger scheme of things, these trends could also explain the difference between working hard and working smart.

That Sunday evening, only one product received a truly emphatic response from the judges (who also happened to be investors): They offered to put their money in the company right then and there.

That product was an app designed for Google Glass, the hi-tech hardware slated to roll out perhaps as early as the end of this year. The idea behind this app was to provide a platform to connect Google Glass users (who literally put on spectacles and use them as a smartphone, except that everything is hands-free, runs on voice command and is right in front of the users’ eyes) with experts from all around the world.

This is the scenario the founders of the app used in their final demo: Your car broke down in the middle of the road, and you don’t want to call a towing company. So you put your Google Glass on, go to this app and then visually demonstrate your problem to a connected expert on the other side, and voila — your problem is solved.

Sure, there were many loopholes in the idea, but it was still received successfully. And that brings home the point: These guys were working on a commercial-scale project ahead of the curve, which is what made the judges salivate with wagging checkbooks in their hands. Seriously.

So what’s the point? The first thing that came to my mind was that while developing mobile apps, which is what everybody else did that weekend, is cool, it’s an overheated market and in a sense already passe. There are countless engineers working on building upon existing mobile apps. On the other hand, it is the truly cutting-edge ideas that attract money almost instantly. In all likelihood, developing apps for Google Glass will be passe in another few years, and something more cutting-edge will command premium.

And that’s where the whole issue of working hard versus smart comes into question. Clearly the guys working on building the application for Google Glass were working smart. But why don’t many other intelligent people choose to work ahead of the curve to multiply their gains? Perhaps there is a trade-off. The more cutting-edge the idea, the riskier the proposition. And in risky propositions, you get all or nothing. On the other hand, when developing something that is already established, spectacular success is beyond reach; but you are more or less guaranteed stable returns. And that is what attracts most people to being risk-averse. There is nothing wrong about it — in fact it is a much more sensible way of living in this world. However, it is always useful to be aware of the distinction. Cause if you feel the entrepreneurial dissatisfaction with the status quo, you’d know you are on the wrong side of the fence. So which side of the fence are you on?

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