Are Things Moving Faster Than In 1999?

I spent the day yesterday doing Denver Startup Week stuff. I was on a bunch of panels and during one of the Q&A sessions someone asked something to the effect of:

“Now that things are moving faster than ever before, how do you deal with / keep up with them?”

I thought about it for a second and responded that I wasn’t sure the assertion was correct. I don’t think things are moving faster than ever before. I paused to make sure I believed that. Then I continued with my answer.

I was a freshman in college in 1983. It felt like things were moving at an extremely fast pace. I started my first real company in 1987. The pace of things was incredible. After I sold my first company, I started a company called Intensity Ventures to make all my personal investments from. The name kind of says it all. When I started making venture capital investments in 1997, the pace of things, and the amount of work I did, was massive. In 1999 things were moving so theoretically quickly that everything was a total blur.

After riffing on this for a while, I suggested we approach it differently. It’s not that things are moving faster, it’s that information is much more available and there’s much less friction around communication. My communication mechanisms in 1983 were a landline telephone, letters, newspapers, magazines, and an airplane. The only constant in that equation 32 years later is the airplane, and as far as I can tell it takes about the same number of hours (six) to get from Boston to San Francisco that it did in 1983.

By 1987 I was regularly using faxes and Federal Express (the only overnight mail I was aware of), but a mobile phone and email didn’t really show up until around 1993 for me. The web appeared in 1994 and a completely different method of communication started its long march into integrating in our universe.

While all of this was different, the pace of things – at least the intensity of how work got done – didn’t feel much different. I was young and had a huge amount of energy and ambition, so 100 hour work weeks were typical. Redeyes were the norm for me as I wanted to spent the least amount of waking hours on airplanes. By 2001 when the Internet bubble burst, I was completely exhausted, and then I began a relentless grind for several years of cleaning up the mess I had created, followed by another relentless grind of working to get Mobius Venture Capital into a steady place and ultimately starting Foundry Group.

I never once felt that things were moving slowly. Instead, as time passed, my approach to communicating with people changed, although lots of humans in my world still want to get together face to face or fly to meet me for 30 minutes when a video conference would be perfectly adequate.

But more significantly, when I calmly observe the world around me, we want to feel, like every other generation, that what we are facing right now is more complicated, more important, and changing faster than ever before in human history.

On an absolute basis, it might feel this way because of communication mechanisms. But if you take the first derivative, I think you’ve got a flat line, as the relative pace (when normalized for communication mechanisms) feels constant to me, at least during the 1983 to 2015 time period that I’ve experienced as an adult.

Remember – All this has happened before and all of it will happen again. Ponder this the next time you get on an airplane, even if it has WiFi.

Agree or disagree?

  • jusben1369

    A 100 hour work week is a little over 14 hours per day _every day_ (Of course I figure you could do that math too). Were you really that singular that consistently for an extended period of time? I like to pride myself on working hard but nothing like that. It would be fascinating to hear what that experience is like (perhaps you’ve blogged that already somewhere) both the pros and the cons.

    • Yup.

      My guess is it ranged from 80 to 110 hours for much of my 20s. I worked all day every Saturday and usually worked most Sundays. We used to joke that the weekend at Feld Technologies (for myself and my partner Dave) was from 9pm to midnight on Sunday nights.

      In hindsight, the amount sucked. It’s part of why my first marriage failed and my current marriage to Amy almost failed.

      • jusben1369

        No wonder you pushed back pretty hard on things moving faster now 🙂 Glad you pulled out of the nose dive in time with Amy.

      • Madi

        Interesting insight. How does one know when their career ambitions are affecting their relationships? Especially for entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get wrapped up in an 70+ hour work week while remaining blind to the effect it has on the rest of your life. Got any advice?

        • In my previous working role I was pulling 80 hour average weeks (for almost 2 years), sometimes rolling up into the 100+ hours. All I can say is that you personal life becomes about as broad as a laser beam, you breathe and think work. Now during those hours I found my social interaction and entertainment also happened in the workplace (your mind/body naturally integrates this). The hardest part was for my girlfriend who only saw me on Sunday’s or late late evenings. Looking back, I loved the pressure and speed, but it wasn’t as productive if we had just cut the hours (forcibly) and used that free time for non-work related activities. I could have probably got just as much done in 50 or 60 hours a week. So if you’re doing 70+ hours, consider a dramatic change and look into how to be more productive in less time than how can you balance and work more!

          • Madi

            Thanks for the advice Nigel!

  • Kiley Grant

    I’ll disagree, but only based on opinion. If you look at Fuller’s concept of ephemeralization, we are certainly able to do more with less. Even since 1999. Take smartphones as the simplest example. I can now carry the breadth of human knowledge in my pocket. I can hail a “taxi”, get my house cleaned, lawn mowed and table reserved for dinner in a couple of minutes while sitting at my desk, therefore freeing up time and allowing me to do more. To me, that is moving faster.

    • Interesting perspective.

      As someone living in Boulder, I’m not sure those things have had a material impact on how fast I move. There’s a convenience factor at some level (using Opentable instead of calling for a reservation) but then I get emails I have to respond to an callbacks to confirm my reservation.

      I enjoying riding in Uber a lot better than taxis when I got to NY, but I don’t think I move any faster. There we lots of cabs – they just sucked. It still feels like convenience and user experience, but not necessarily an increase in pace (I still have to get in the car and wait in traffic as we head across town – my teleportation device still isn’t fully functional.)
      But adding in convenience / user experience to the mix is worth me pondering – it has definitely changed for me.

      • Kiley Grant

        You helped me realize the root of my thought. Convenience is the key. Saving time on the minutia allows a steeper progression curve.

        There is something to be said about quality of life in a place like Boulder. Some things cease to matter which accomplishes the same thing as convenience.

    • P Donohue

      Ditto

  • agree

  • The nuance is in the ‘what’s faster?’ – Is it faster to start building something and connect that something with people who care? Yeah it is. But the amount of energy that goes into that endeavor is just as much as it was 20 years ago.

    So the result of our efforts is moving faster because technology enables us to do more, but we ourselves aren’t moving at a faster pace.

  • Would you have been able to find out as critical information about a prospective investment faster now than in 1997?

    If so, then you are able to make a decision on doing the deal faster and therefore it looks like you move faster if that same team talked to you in 1997 vs Today.

    We have had sharp folks that know their investment thesis invest in us the same week after reading our Angel List profile and doing a video call. I was 9 in 1997 so I cant say, but would that have been possible back then?

    • Waldo Mitten

      More than likely not. In 1997 to 1999, you had no Crunchbase, limited writeups by third parties like venturewire.com taking their articles from press releases on the prospect website, and a climate in which it really an investment “thesis” was nonexistent. Imagine scads and scads of cash being thrown in a FOMO manner at anything and everything. Today while you still see a lot of that, you will probably not see so many incidents like pets.com. Then again, Zirtual, Fab.com, etc etc etc….

  • I’ve observed tens of startups in Silicon Valley/SF in the past 2 years and it feels to me like we’re moving at about the same speed, or maybe on average a tiny bit slower.

    3 data points:

    1) Joining Akamai just pre-IPO, where it had already been around for 2 years and seen explosive growth from idea to name customers to rounds of investment to $1m ARR and beyond. More than most companies that are the modern unicorns. The next 2 years were about the same, except the business cratering and having to swap it out or non-bubbly companies. Total growth stalled for a bit but net work and speed of company was insane.

    2) The ISP industry in the 90s, creating the commercial Internet. It was a lot like this decade. Every month if not week if not day there was something new coming up to disrupt your business. Modem type then leased access then CLEC then DSL then cable. Or web design and that vector. Or hosting. Huge companies were built and the world changed at the infra level.

    3) Seeing the bubbly (in my case telecom) vendors that went from PPT to 200m raise to 200 people to a product that no one wanted to shut down. In this case the abs(speed) was super high. Perhaps the net speed was much more negative since nothing was created.

    • who do you think, or what silos do you think follow that pattern today?

      • On the + side: Automating boring shit as SaaS (zenefits, zendesk), and sometimes simple shit that was around as SaaS and just sucked, or good and ex-great but failed to stay great (slack vs hipchat).

        For kentik we think it’ll be SaaSifying the mass of appliances that people buy to monitor their other hardware. I feel like we could be moving faster and more in parallel towards that but we’ve selected for big-think but prudent investors and don’t want the kind of multimillion $/mo burn that Akamai had to achieve its massive first few year growth.

        The scary thing I see that makes me think there is definitely too much money is people in enterprise companies raising $3-5m seeds w no board members. $5m notes. $20m post on seed round, again no board members. Many have never been CEOs or even VPs of companies with financial, HR, metrics, etc infrastructure. Some of these companies really are slideware, just folks who have left big webcos and are great technologists who make somewhat raw but great sw infra components.

        To temper that… It’s hard for those companies to get past B without real revenue of some sort (unless they’re storage or deep on-prem enterprise security, where big trials can be the metric, even at B).

  • Things definitely feel to me like they’re moving fast these days, but they’re not totally unhinged like they were in 1999. It was insanity. It was a tornado and we were all in the house spinning through the air. The stock market was delirious. The tech industry was rapturous. Yeah, things are wild today but not like they were then.

  • When I hear “things are moving faster” I don’t so much think of my individual interactions being faster as I do the rate of technological change in the world.

    Specific skills rot far, far faster now, in part because it’s so much easier for people to get in contact with and learn from one another. It does feel like today’s world demands of the average person a far greater pace of continuous learning to keep up.

    So I hear the question as “how do you learn what’s required to stay ahead of the curve when technology is changing faster than ever?”

    And that’s a very different curve to keep up with.

    • P Donohue

      Second that.

  • Vinod

    Another angle to this would be…. how we have changed culturally in the last two decades..

    Those changes appear to be more significant than the changes brought by technology … Women empowerment (on the positive side), rampant drug usage etc, growing prevalance of mental problems like autism etc…

    If we are looking at the issue from a human evolution and lifestyle standpoint these factors would be more relevant to the next generation

    • I agree there are massive cultural changes that have occurred in the last 20 years. But I’d also argue that there are massive culture changes that have occurred over the past 100 years. When I think of the arc of culture change, I’m not sure there is something happening “faster” in the past 20 years.

      • Vinod

        This is a viewpoint from my part of the world…where changes seem to happen at a faster rate …It could be because I am getting old and I am starting to notice how the new generation is different… That said, Wouldn’t you say women are more empowered now when compared to say the last 10 centuries, and marriage as a system appears to be losing its relevance…

    • StevenHB

      Do you think that autism and other mental health issues) are occurring at a higher frequency or are we just recognizing them more often?

  • Alex Pack

    This is really interesting because you’re talking about the pace of change generally, not just in tech or startups. There are a couple ways to measure this – the half-life of cultural memes, the pace of technological breakthroughs, the babelization of language – that are more quantitative than anecdotes, although measuring change is a problem itself. Ray Kurzweil has that famous graph plotting breakthrough tech (or paradigm shifts) over time, which is distinctly exponential. We know that the rate at which language has changed changes in different contexts and eras. It is very high in preliterate oral times, without writing to codify things.

    The question is what drives these shifts? Is it productivity growth (Kurzweil’s argument)? Is it changes in communication (the Innis / McLuhan argument)? There’s a strong case to be made for the latter, and it’s interesting that that’s what you immediately go to.

    • It’s also a good reminder from you that humans don’t understand exponential curves when they are in them (a key point of Kurzweil’s.) When you are in the midst of one, it feels like a line. It’s only when you scale back and look at it over time that you realize it’s exponential.

      • P Donohue

        “…humans don’t understand exponential curves when they are in them…” Therein lies the risk of misperception.

        Who remembers making Trans Atlantic calls to Europe? You had to go through a special operator, a human. That took forever. Now Berlin is like next door.

        The Microwave oven has been around for a long time. Try living without it for one week.

        Life before the cellphone was definately slower, much slower. Hell, I had friends that used rotary dial phones. I can remember making a call from his office and waiting for that dial to roll back before dialing another number. I had two, state of the art Motorola Pagers. I would be driving and one or both would go off, then I had to find a PAY PHONE. Has anyone seen one of those lately? Depending on where I was it was a pain in the ass most of the time.

        Then I got my first car phone, a Pacific Bell Statewide. It was cumbersome and expensive but worlds better than looking for a payphone. At the first hint of cellphones I was all over that. I could easily see today, but not the iPhone.

        I was one of the first to sell them. I focused on Real Estate Developers. It took what seemed a lifetime to sell one, until I sold to the right guy. I gave him one for a week and paid his bill. He would not give it back and I had to get a new number. He would do business from the golf course. Then everyone wanted one and he was pissed off because his competition was calling him, thinking it was me because he had my old number.

        There was the dialup modem, and oh, how I hated those things. Today, I have fiber that comes through the wall right into the circuit board of my office computer, blazing. For the most part, I wait for nothing to load.

        Does anyone remember doing patent searches prior to Goggle? Thank God for Google!

        I read patents every day, OK, maybe 5 days per week. I also read scholarly papers all the time. I know some of you went to college. Any out there who did prior to the internet? Remender the stacks?

        How about legal research? Land titles? Chemical reactions?

        The pace of scientific research has most definitely quickened. Autocad, MATLAB and even Photoshop and such have not only cut costs but increase turn around time. How many printed prototypes do you see these days?

        The last Maker Faire in The Valley had a tent the size of a football field full of 3D.

        Then there is this puppy: http://us.dmgmori.com/products/lasertec/lasertec-additivemanufacturing/lasertec-65-3d#Intro

        It is currently my favorite machine in the whole world. I want one more than a Tesal Model X. It is a game changer. I seems slow now, but if you have a key piece of your factory down due to a bad exotic part that is no longer made, it feels lightning fast.

        Speaking of Tesla, I think having the equivalent of a gas pump in your garage is lovely. For for 90% of daily drives in the USA, a Model S is just fine. It is great not having to figure a route to a gas station ever again. No scheduling oil changes, smog check, tune ups, and best of all, not feeling like you need to take a shower after dealing with the service manager.

        UBER, press a button, get a car.

        There is all sort of incremental stuff that cumulatively adds up to less time to product development and then market.

        We are currently at the knee of the hockystick curve that represents the geometric rate of technological change. The next five years will be wow! The next ten will blow your doors off and no one knows exactly what 10 years after that will bring, but it will be crazy different than anything anyone can imagine.

        Those lines at the airport waiting to go through security, gone in five years or less.

        Driverless cars, in five years insurance companies will start giving deep discounts if you have one.

        It is all about the amount of information or knowledge that is available to the number of people.

        My daughter and business partner is 15 years old. Her and her best friend are taking CS classes from Harvard, Stanford and CAL, just for giggles, from home. No grade or certificate, yet.

        But, she recently discovered that Stanford will look kindly on those classes for admissions if they get the certificate. She wants into Stanford, so we will see.

        The world is most deffinately moving much faster. Those who can see it will profit.

        Either one makes the change, learns to surf it or becomes chum in its waters. I am making it. How about you?

        .

  • I posit it is vast, global, high volume level of communications that makes life in the 21st Century feel “faster” than the 20th.

    Face to face meetings are unchanged, and conference calls little changed, but in between those, we’re now able to participate in far more conversations than in the days of landline phones, answering machines, fax, and FedEx.

    Here in 2015, I routinely send 40-50 email per day in 30-40 unique conversations. I can reach thousands of people with a few clicks on Mailchimp, and tens of thousands with a re-tweeted Tweet. Some of those 10 minute efforts then result in dozens of new conversations. And my blog doesn’t get anywhere the discussion traffic of yours, which often send you 500 comments to read in a single post.

    There is no way my father in his startup in the 80’s could have replicated this scale. Not with all the phone tag to schedule meeting, dictated letters typed by his secretary, and customer outreach by direct mail. Those were the same tools my grandfather had for his sporting goods store in the 50’s and 60’s.

    • Go back to my great geandfather in the 10’s and 20’s, and all they had hand-written letters and an occasional telegram. And hour face-to-face meeting took the same hour as today, but I can’t fathom the amount of time it must have taken to schedule a meeting. Hard enough to do that in email without Assistant.to or Doodle. 🙂

      • It often seems like it takes me longer to schedule a meeting today using electronic tools, also because everything thinks it’s so much easier to schedule a meeting! Ah – the irony of “modern life.”

        • I didn’t live long enough in the phone-only era to know how difficult it was back then. Nor have any idea how it worked in the pre-phone era.

          Today, it seems a big factor in scheduling a meeting is the relative power of the two participants. When I book time with you or other investors, it’s on your schedule, using your processes. For 90% of my meetings, I send out an Assistant.to or other list of times on my calendar, and one email later it’s booked.

    • But – do you get more done? That’s the real question I’m focusing on. Or – even more precise – do you accomplish more – on a relative basis – than you father did?

      • As an individual, most probably yes. I think the most important tradeoff of all this 20-teens technology is that I can personally accomplish what took my in my father’s day a small team.

        Then again the other tradeoff is that the expectation in quality of today’s materials is much higher. My website vs. his quarter-page, one-color yellow pages ad. My MailChimp newsletters vs. his one-color mailings. My online videos and blog vs. no equivalent from his day.

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  • Yup, agree. And we are more aware if we care to be. An economists rule of thumb is it takes 30 years for true innovation to be adopted by society. Electricity, the printing press, rail, cars, all took 30 years. If the internet was made usable in 1993, we aren’t there yet.

    • But we are at the tail end of the 30 years for the Internet (2023) – at least in the last decade. What’s the thing(s) that we are in the first decade of the 30 year arc?

      • Wow, so many things when you really start to think about it. We are early in Artificial Intelligence, and AI goes into cars, medicine, manufacturing and virtually every part of our life. It will radically change our lives in that we will gain time. Sensors, and Internet of Things; early. Driverless cars. Algorithms that constantly work in the background to make things more efficient. Robotics. I sort of wish that I was 1 not 53.

    • Profile Defenders

      I dont think that the same holds true for the internet because of the speed that it can be spread and how readily available it is everywhere. Rail, Cars, and Printing press are in such a different category.

  • Gordon Flammer

    I think the question that was asked was undercut by the context in which it was asked, as you, Raj and Tom were talking about a company that you all took from creation to IPO in just 18 months! To show this wasn’t just a unique anecdote that was outside the norm, I made this chart from information I got from renaissancecapital.com. It shows that from 1999 to today there has been a slightly downward trend, but comparing anytime to 1999 & 2000 (the time about which you and the panel were speaking) no time has come close to how quickly things were moving. The average age of a company in 1999 and 2000 was only 10 years, which was the lowest it’s ever been, and the other two times it started approaching that level was in 2007 & 2008, and it looks like 2015 & 2016.

    Regarding your ominous BSG reference, the chart also seems to show that every time this average drops as low as it is right now, it’s just before a recession/bubble-burst.

  • Andrew Bertolina

    Good historical perspective

  • Sigurdur Gudbrandsson

    Did I detect a little of a Battlestar Galactica reference there in the end? 😉

  • It is great insight, although I’m not sure I’d agree completely – I agree that the pace at which I myself is moving, is the same – corrected for some times which I consciously chose to slow down, I have generally felt that I am moving at a constantly fast pace. What has changed though, is that the tools are available to allow everyone to ‘feel’ like they are moving at a fast pace as well — there is an overload of ‘information’ allowing more people than ever to build upon causing a constant firehose of noise. However, I do not think people have become more effective. Those that didn’t know how to manage time before, are even less effective now. I feel that although I have kept at a constant moving pace back then as now, I like to think that I know how to manage my time and the inbound noise, and I am more effective now — same pace though.

    • How much of this is “noise” vs. “signal”?

  • Jann Scott Live

    Yup.

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