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Ethos: What ‘Blank Canvas’ Means to NextView

Lee Hower
April 27, 2012 · 2  min.

As many of you may know, we have a section on the NextView website called “Ethos” where we describe five key principles to how we operate.  My partners and I have blogged about some of these including Invited Guest, Golazo, Authentic, and Tribe.  The last is Blank Canvas which I wanted to touch upon today.

To us the notion of painting with a blank canvas has both inward and outward facing components.  We love meeting entrepreneurs who take this blank canvas approach when thinking about disrupting markets.  Just because it hasn’t been done before or hasn’t been done in a particular way doesn’t mean it can’t be done… in fact many of the greatest businesses have been built by doing just that.  This is how new markets get created.

Sometimes even what seem like incremental innovations can have radical impact, if talented and creative people start with that blank canvas and envision the future as it should be not as a derivative of how it’s been.  Apple’s not a startup but thanks in large part to the spirit Steve Jobs infused in the company, they do an incredible job of imagining a product from scratch as it should be.  This is true not just for entirely new product categories like tablets, but even existing ones… smartphones had been around for 5+ years before the first gen iPhone launched in 2007 (remember Palm Treos and the original Blackberry phones?).  On the startup side, Square’s done a particularly good job of this in payments.

My partner David recently wrote about how investors tend to bring their own inherent biases (both good and bad) into pitch meetings with entrepreneurs.  We try hard to bring our own blank canvas into these meetings so that we can better conceive and appreciate the vision of founders we meet with.  It’s not easy to check our preexisting biases at the door and sometimes we leave meetings as true believers and sometimes as skeptics.  But it’s something we strive to do and I believe serves us well.

Similarly Rob, David, and I try to think with a blank canvas, both in starting NextView in 2010 and on a continuous reevaluation of how we invest and how we might better help entrepreneurs build great companies.  I wouldn’t say we’re radically reinventing venture capital and there are many firms we respect who have been innovating recently in connecting a portfolio of startups into a network, taking a different approach to how to staff a VC firm, and even the pace of VC investing.  But whether it be how we collaborate or seeking new/different ways to help our portfolio with technical recruiting, we aspire to constantly rethink how we might improve… each time starting with our own blank canvas.

Lee Hower
Lee is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has spent his entire career as an entrepreneur and investor in early-stage software and internet startups.