First, I wanted to talk about whether a company should go into 'stealth mode' or go for the buzz. There are clearly times when each is required in the life of a company. If you're trying to raise money or generate sales quickly, you need as much buzz as possible. On the other hand, premature buzz can bring you too much attention. That attention could prove distracting to you and your staff, but worse, it could alert your competitors to the fact that you've become a threat. Worse still, if your product isn't quite ready or isn't truly perfect, you can bring in unnecessary scrutiny and your competitors may pounce on your products' inadequacies.
So, though there are certainly exceptions, my recommendation would be that unless you need outside investment immediately, remain stealthy until your product is solid, you have a proven marketing plan, and you're ready for the big launch. Even then, make sure you know what you're up against with the buzz. It can kill you faster than a bullet to the heart.
I suggest this after having made a few huge mistakes in my career. One of the biggest was heartbreaking for me. My team and I had developed a truly disruptive networking technology. We were true believers in a technolgy that had potential to change the world. We had signed contracts with one of the largest telcos in the world as well as with DARPA. Both had deployed and proven its value.
We partnered with some of the biggest players in the industry and thinking these partnerships now made us invulnerable, went to the press. Within weeks, we were listed in Inc's top 50 companies and in Red Herring's top 10 companies to watch. All of the major industry press were singing our praises.
And then the BIG Guy came after us.
Soon, the BIG Guy was showing up at our customers telling them that they refused to support our technology and that they would withdraw support of their products if the customer continued to deploy ours. Our partners were dumbfounded and we really didn't know what to do. We had hoped that our partners would back us up, but they wanted to leave it to us rather than cross the BIG Guy. We talked to our VCs who suggested that we sell the company to a player who could give us wide enough distribution to force the BIG Guy to follow suit. We did that, thinking once again that nothing could stop us.
Two months after the deal closed, the CTO from the BIG Guy invited me and the CEO of our new parent company in for a chat. I gave a presentation of the technology and showed how easy it would be to propagate in their products. The CTO congratulated me for the world-changing technology, slapped me on the back and said we'd be doing business. I was on top of the world. Our technology was going to bring incredible advancement to the entire networking world and Internet.
As you might guess, it didn't happen. No one will ever know exactly why our technology was killed off. I offered to buy the company back from our new parent company but they refused.
Several years later, after stalling the market with a red herring to ensure that no one else picked up where we left off, the BIG Guy created an initiative for a similar technology based on their own products. Today, almost 20 years later, it is widely deployed as a core underlying technology in most major networks.
The moral of the is story is to be stealthy as long as you can. And when you emerge from stealth mode, make sure you know who you're up against. Have a solid plan to address hostile competition. Sometimes big friends are not enough.