Sawdust and Magic Powder

July 03, 2015

Over the past two weeks, I’ve attended both a Techweek conference and a venture forum focused largely on industry startups. Two opportunities to represent Supply Clinic and explain why the dental supply industry is due for a paradigm shift. And in many respects, the two experiences could hardly have been more different.

In a way, it’s the difference between sawdust and fairy dust.



Techweek is all about the latest widget, as long as the widget doesn’t exist beyond the realm of 1s and 0s. It’s about kids in hoodies creating the newest mobile applications and SaaS platforms. It’s about Uber and Pinterest and photo editing apps. It was emblematic of what was once described to me by one VC investor as the “magic” business. He was trying to dissuade me from selling dental supplies after graduation, and encourage me to do something else, something that could push digital boundaries beyond those of an industry nobody thinks about once they wake up with a nitrous oxide buzz and a dull ache in the jaw.

Industry, on the other hand, is all about the latest widget, if I can pick up the widget and make good use of it. It’s about a better water turbine, or a better stent. Instead of magic powder, industry investors tend to focus on dirt and sawdust. You get startups repairing shoes instead of Airbnbs for pets.

From what I’ve seen so far here in the Midwest, a sizeable chunk of investors and entrepreneurs would explain with pride that they look for the opposite of magic. They want solid foundations. Maybe it’s just reflective of being in Chicago, a city built of steel in a region noted for what it grows, what it builds, and how cold it gets in the winter.

Now I know I’m caricaturizing both sides. Most Silicon Valley investors want to see some sort of business plan, and a path to profitability regardless of just how cushy the margins are or how many bells and whistles are crammed into an app. And industry-focused investors want reasonable margins and a user experience that’s better than the next best in the field. Industrialists like software solutions, too.

But the difference is nonetheless noticeable.

Both pieces are necessary; we need businesses that solve real problems, but we’d be naïve if we didn’t recognize the immense potential that’s being unlocked by SaaS systems and cloud-based solutions, with none of the overhead of brick-and-mortar. And we’d be kidding ourselves if we disregarded UI/UX, and its ability to make or break a product. If we focus our software on the unsexy industries that exist outside of San Francisco, we can really start to make waves.

Because we probably have enough photo editing apps. 



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