Trends Are Made to Be Ignored

Nov 03, 2020
Chess set with one different pawn - trendsetter

By Olga Bartnicki, Managing Director of the New York Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars

As a Managing Director at the New York Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars, I often find myself in the position of being a connector between investors and startups. From both sides of that equation, I field a common question: “What are the trends in fintech?” I doubt they like — or expect — the answer I give: “I don't know, and I don't care.”

I define a trend as something that many individuals have already noticed, heard of, identified, or articulated. It is a wave we can all see coming and know how it will land on the shore. In business terms, it is a technology or business model that a number of founders and engineers are already pursuing. 

However, I believe trends hold little value. They can be a distraction on the path to success for your company or unique idea — an idea that others may not even see yet. For early-stage investors and founders, I believe it is best to find the courage and fortitude to ignore trends. 

What early-stage investors more often look for is something that is not yet obvious to the rest of the world. They look for new technologies and for people who are bold enough to do something that has never been done before. And that, in fact, is the antithesis of a trend. 

In 2007 I cofounded a screen sharing startup called LiveLOOK. The technology was a precursor to today’s pandemic hit, Zoom. We were on the bleeding edge of technical innovation and had a patent-pending technology. But being on the bleeding edge can be difficult and extremely frustrating as you find yourself too early to market. It is hard to get potential investors to believe in a vision that is not a trend, and it is very difficult to get potential customers to make something new a part of their daily routine. They often ask, “Why do I need this when the old way seems to do the job just fine?” 

It took us 10 months of pitching to convince six e-commerce websites to become our first customers and 15 months to get RightNow, a large CRM company, to white label and resell our technology. It took us 18 months to raise capital — significantly longer than we planned. 

In 2007, there was no screen sharing trend to follow. WebEx offered corporate conferencing, which was expensive and complex to set up, but that wasn’t really in the screen sharing space. With LiveLOOK, we saw something that did not exist — a screen sharing application that could be used by everyone on their individual computers and allowed people to see into the other person’s world. 

It was only by staying true to our vision, and being tenacious, that our company grew and was eventually acquired by Oracle. 

If you are a founder and want to build something innovative, ignore the trends and be steadfast to the vision that made you launch your company in the first place. If you are an early-stage investor, you want to invest in something that is truly innovative. As such, do not be afraid to buck the trends and back founders who have unusual points of view.

On either side of the investor-startup equation, to be successful you want to create the trend, not follow it.

About the Author
Olga Bartnicki

Olga Bartnicki is Managing Director of the New York Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars. She is a former investment banker, a C-level operator, and an entrepreneur. Olga earned a Master of Sciences degree from the University of Colorado and an MBA from Harvard Business School.