"When we first entered the Near Field Communication world, we noticed that no one was selling NFC tags at a consumer level. Hobbyists were underserved. So we did what was obvious -- we sold tags online... and from there, our business has only grown. Now we make hardware, software, and infrastructure that makes NFC technology consumable and useful to the entire world."
That's how my cofounders and I describe Tagstand's beginnings. It's an origin story that sounds simple and organic. That story however, though romantic, is a bit unfaithful to the underlying truth.
Tagstand started as three serial entrepreneurs, admitted to Y-Combinator without an idea. Each of us had taken this opportunity as a path to starting a big business. In our minds, that meant we had to find a big market, an open technology, and a space where we could see ourselves succeeding. Of the spaces we could think of, one stood out: near field communication -- a technology whose adoption rates were poor, but whose future seemed filled with promise.
As such, we became NFC explorers. We sought projects large and small, read specifications, reached out to industry leaders, attended events, answered Quora questions, and ultimately did everything we could to fling ourselves into an ecosystem that we believed would someday be flooded with opportunity. From a business perspective, we did unnatural things. We built products without needs. We did projects at cost, or executed them in unsustainable ways. We were simply doing whatever we could to discover an identity for our new company.
Though it doesn't fit the rhetoric of the typical Silicon Valley story, this model is not new. Explorers have been creating wealth for ages by researching the unknown -- meandering through the darkness of new worlds to discover untapped opportunities.
And yet, despite the fact that this model has been tested in the past, our beginning still felt strange to me. It felt strange, because not only did we have to worry about execution risk, but also the risk of finding a good idea. And it felt strange, because it was hard to respond to the first question nearly everyone asked about my company, "What do you do?" But perhaps most of all, it felt weird because it was weird: we started a company without what is perhaps the most common metric by which startups are evaluated: an idea.
I guess this leads me to a thought that is often stated, but perhaps rarely believed. While startups require decisiveness, perseverance, and a host of other traits to start, they don't initially require ideas. Sure, ideas are required along the way, but to start, one needs only the will and self-belief required to begin and push forward as an entrepreneur. That may seem unnatural in the beginning, but I imagine, so does sailing into uncharted waters, attending college, or even dating your future husband or wife. Of course perhaps, it's that lack of comfort early on that tells us we are truly creating something of value. If it were easy and natural, after all, it probably would have been done before.