Last week at the Atlanta Ventures' lunch table, we went around sharing what we’re professionally most excited about over the next 12 months. I was one of the last to answer and had the comfort of time for my response. My basic response came out with: “finding obvious insights, not easily seen.”
Before analyzing whether or not a value prop has authentic demand, I believe there is a step prior to analyzing a market, team, product, and idea.
It’s difficult to codify but we’ll try by starting with Peter Thiel’s single best interview question. Thiel is well known for asking in interviews this one question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? Thinking about that for quite some time after reading it years ago, the question is not about what stance do you take that is disagreeable with popular consensus (re: capitalism vs. socialism). Instead, the question helps excavate what truth in this world is largely unknown and needs to be uncovered. After spending over 5 years at Atlanta Ventures, I intensely appreciate this question more than ever.
Great businesses are built on truths or insights and most times they are not obvious – hence “very few people” agree with you. It’s not that most disagree with you, they just aren't looking and therefore don't see the truth you see, and if they don’t see it, then they can’t agree or disagree with you about it. These are not philosophical truths or truths around morality, but instead truths about the current state of the world.
Now that I’ve circled us into a confusing web of jargon, let me try and explain the concept through some concrete examples.
Figs, the high-end scrubs company, is a classic example of an obvious insight not easily seen and definitely one that few people agreed with founder Trina Spear. Since the beginning of modern medicine, scrubs have been borderline pajamas and lacking utility – until Figs. Here is a great interview with Trina Spear on how she came to the realization and executed on the insight.
Another quality example that hits much closer to home. Two nights ago, I was having dinner with my family, and a family friend came up to us at the table and asked how Intown Golf Club was doing? I shared it was going better than expected and our second location in Charlotte just opened with comparable excitement and metrics we generated in Atlanta. He then went on to say: “you know, when I first heard about that concept, I thought it was the stupidest thing in the world, and then months later when I walked in, I knew y’all hit it out of the park.” The truth around Intown Golf Club is that golf in any major city is hard to access whether through public or private courses. And a high-end club familiar in taste and style to high-end, traditional clubs, wrapped around the culture of golf including simulators, produces a desirable environment – even if the golf is on simulators.
In both cases with Figs and Intown Golf Club, it’s not like there was a staunch disagreement on the foundational truths the businesses were built around, but most people don’t even know about the potential for there to be that truth. Scrubs have always been and always will be uncomfortable and tying your wedding ring to your scrubs is what doctors have always done – why would scrubs need ring pockets? Or golf clubs have always been constructed around green grass courses and rounds should take 4 hours. Why would someone join a club without a green grass golf course even though there is a massive bar, good food, quality community all with the ease of dialing in your wedges during lunch – right in the heart of the city?
Every year or so at Atlanta Ventures, I’ve been on the front line of seeing, excavating, and galvanizing people around an obvious insight not easily seen. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the market pull, rate of product ideas / iterations, and magnetic attraction of the most talented and creative people is electric.
This is why I’m excited to keep searching for obvious insights not easily seen.