Howard Lindzon at Startup Empire: Why Now is a Good Time to Start Your Startup


startup_empireLater on in the afternoon at yesterday’s Startup Empire conference, Howard Lindzon took the stage. Howard manages a hedge fund and is the creator of the finance news humour site Wallstrip, which he sold to CBS in May 2007. He also has a very popular financial blog at

I shot some video asking Howard about his idea of “social leverage”; I’ll post it a litter later on. In the meantime, here are my notes from his presentation, Why Now is a Great Time to Start Your Startup.

The Current Situation

  • Capital, which was so plentiful, is now gone
  • Reminiscent of the real estate bubble in Phoenix (where I live half the time)
  • Really important right now to shut out the noise
  • From 2002 – 2006, it was fun to read Valleywag, TechCrunch and make "me too" products. You can’t do that anymore
  • It’s also a bad time to base products on:
  • Sometimes you have to shelf your ideas for when the times are more suitable for them
  • The headlines are all doom and gloom these days:
    • "Financial Ice Age" – BusinessWeek
    • Startup Depression – Calacanis (I’m not a fan)
  • You must remember that even during good times, 80 to 90% of businesses fail
  • The VC model isn’t broken

Social Leverage

  • Financial leverage has come home to roost
  • We’re in a period of deleveraging: there is no bottom, because we don’t know what everyone owns
  • P/E ratios — it’s all about expectation, people expect less
  • You can’t get what you got six months ago
  • Expectations are in "this ratchet-down mode"
  • I also think that "we’re going into a depression" is crazy talk
  • I’m anti-financial leverage
  • Social leverage is all-powerful
    • Nothing you do in social leverage will haunt you
    • It’s a gift from the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
    • Perhaps you shouldn’t start building social leverage with a blog unless your passion is for writing
    • Start small: work with people
    • Be mindful of the etiquette of social networking tools
    • The time to ask people for something is when they’re least expecting it

Too Small to Fail

  • Wall Street was all about "too big to fail"
  • I’m not seeing signs from the presidents about being small – they seem too concerned with conglomerations and unwilling to bust up things
  • Bailouts just prolong the process
  • This is not a headline, it’s a state of being
  • It’s a great time to start a web-based business
  • If you’ve ever played the board game “Risk”, you know:
    • If you’re starting all your armies in Europe, you’re screwed
    • Start off in New Guinea
  • Consider one of my projects,
    • I like to stay in businesses I know
    • Started in Twitter — thought it was dumb in the beginning
    • Guys, this should be about ideas
    • Wrote post about how there should be a message board for stocks using the reputation model in Twitter
    • Twitter allows you some sort of reputation — everything you say is there for people to see
    • Stocktwits — one employee, $30K to start
    • Twitter offers possibilities: dating, betting — supports an ecosytem
  • Be careful in whom you trust
  • Embrace social leverage
  • Be too small to fail: do the one thing you do very well
  • Take as little money as you need; things will get better
  • Ignore the people saying that this is “a new Ice Age” – they’re idiots


  • Zig while others zag
  • Take a look at this graph, in which the pink line is the Vicks index and the blue is RRSPs: 


  • From 2003 – 2005:
    • Fear level low
    • Calacanis’s company, TechCrunch and other stupid tech businesses wree founded when fear was low
  • It’s always a good time to start a web business
    • The truth is that it’s never a good time to start any business
    • Successful business can be started anytime
    • 80 – 90% of businesses fail anytime

Why businesses fail

  • It’s important to have structure right from the beginning
  • Mistakes made at start can come back to haunt you
  • Sometimes partners fight, so rules and agreements at made at the the start are valuable
  • The keys: Structure, funding and realistic valuation
  • When it comes to spreadsheets and plans, keep in mind that it’s important to do one thing, do it well and get that customer – this is far more important than the spreadsheets
  • Make sure you’re fishing where the fish are
    • “Swim near the shark”
    • Be around certain ecosystems

My Advice

  • Social leverage: good
  • Financial leverage: bad
  • Be an expert at something
    • For good or bad: mine is finance
    • "I don’t really like the people in my industry"
    • Applications of my expertise:
  • Investing: more art than science

      Q & A

      How do you balance your day?

      • StockTwits is the only thing I run
      • Knightsbridge pays me to be on the road
      • I’m usually up at 5am
      • Private equity: long hours, long weekends

      How do you make use of social leverage?

      • One example: Fred Wilson
      • Two months invested in reading his blog
      • I found out that Fred was a basketball fan and took him to a Phoenix Suns game
      • We talked business
      • Fred just happened to be friends with Jim Cramer
      • Through Fred, I  met everybody else — I counts it as my “real day 1 “
      • “You make your own luck”

      What are you looking for with companies?

      • I’m more of an angel and a scrapper
      • I want to to be early
      • I want to see a finished product
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