I just witnessed over a dozen startups ride up and down an elevator. In less than the time it takes an elevator to cover 18 floors - each venture had to pitch investors on what problem they solve, what value their product brings to the world and why they are are the right team for the job.
It was a fun experience- but the reality is that these occurrences rarely if ever happen. And if and when they do, it's not the amount of time it takes to pitch that counts so much as the timing in the grand scheme of things.
When It's Bad
My timing hasn't always been so pretty - in fact it has plain sucked. Just before the turn of the century my first career in the music industry depended on selling vinyl records. Sales for vinyl LPs and singles were nearing the worst in history and it appeared that both would soon to be obsolete.
My next foray into fashion just after the turn of the century was no better timed. I launched several mid-market fashion brands that quickly became popular with multi-label retailers like Urban Outfitters and Topshop. In those early days, things went swimmingly. That is, until the fast fashion movement exploded. High street newcomers like H&M, Zara and Primark coupled with the groundswell of the Great Recession - extinguished demand for my brands almost instantaneously. That's when I really learned the value of Innovate or Die.
When It's Good
I have been fortunate though to have some good timing. Leading the launch of London's first Fashion and Technology Accelerator happened right at that sweet spot when the 'FashTech' movement was gaining steam. Bourgeoning startups from the first cohort included Tinder for shoes startup Stylect and designer brand Vinaya. Shortly after, a myriad of fashion focused startups, incubators and investment funds popped up. The icing on the cake was topped when Wired released it's Fashion goes Tech edition.
And just last year with the launch of the UK's first hardware incubator, Central Research Laboratory, I have been a part of a new breed of businesses that are already making waves. These include digital drawing startup Canvas and electromechanical glove maker Learning Hand. The incubator also happens to be an integral instrument in a £250 million regeneration plan. The timing this time around, seems impeccable.
When It's Great
Timing today for a clever startup couldn't be riper - in particular in Asia. In addition to being in the right place at the right time, those starting up or entering this market can also benefit from: favourable government schemes, the swift rise of the middle class and a growing user base that will soon make up over half of the word's population.
So just how important is timing? In fact, it's so crucial that a study from Idealab founder Bill Gross says it accounts for 42% of the difference between a startup failing or succeeding.
Remember Napster? It popped up in the summer of 1999 and closed down just two years later (It was too progressive for its own good and it also broke a myriad of laws). Peer-to-peer MP3 sharing itself actually dates back further to 1994 with the man who broke the music business. Being too far ahead of your time in a nascent market (or too far behind in a mature one) can be the difference between going big and going bankrupt.
Ironically for me, it is Vinyl records that are witnessing a revival. Cassette tapes and compact discs may have gone the way of the dodo bird - but Vinyl Records are now being dubbed the craft beer of music formats. Go figure.