Forced Situations Keep Us Innovative


A few days ago, I was lucky to be a part of a panel of Southeast Asian & Silicon Valley product folks. It was meant to be a virtual dinner party with product professionals discussing product trends in SEA & SV. (Of course, I literally had my dinner plate with me as we were conversing.) It was enriching for me to learn more about product building Southeast Asia given I’ll be setting my sights there one day.

One of the questions asked was: “Is this the right time to be building or starting a new venture?” A typical answer amidst this environment is a resounding NO. Shortage of VCs, an unstable market, a tendency for customers to save vs. consume, a possibly temporary perception of product-market fit — all these factors plus more make it difficult to imagine a more positive answer to the question.

However, the contrarian answer — and the one I personally admire & subscribe to — is that this is THE time to build! There were a couple entrepreneurs in the group that voiced their sentiment and I loved the spirit!

The riskiest reason for starting something at this time is the question of temporary product-market fit. Finding product-market fit right now is different than finding product-market fit when we’re “back to normal” (assuming we’ll ever get back to our previous notion of normal). But finding sustainable product-market fit doesn’t necessarily have to be tied with the times we live in.

In fact, certain innovative ideas propping up now may not exist had we not been forced to see the world through quarantine-colored lenses.

I gave two examples to illustrate this:

  1. Open to Job Opportunities At LinkedIn (where I work!), we have this feature called “Open to Jobs.” Simply, you can turn this toggle on to signal to Recruiters & people on your network that you’re open to new opportunities.With the influx of layoffs & people needing to find their next plays, we’ve started to doubling down on this “Open To” feature. In fact, in a couple weeks, we’ll be rolling out an “Open to Hiring” feature that replaces the hacky “we’re hiring” on people’s headlines (I’m building that one!!!) & expanding “Open To” feature set so we can make these signals more viral (stay tuned).And, hey, if you think about it, these investments to help job seekers & hirers, COVID-19 or not, are still so valuable for job seekers and hirers everywhere! But, we probably wouldn’t have had such outsized focus on expanding these core features had we not gone into this pandemic.
  2. Run the World is a company I’ve been following since its launch earlier this year.Xiaoyin Qu, founder & CEO, built an end to end solution to run scalable, online events from anywhere. It’s gaining more & more prominence & backing of VCs especially because of this unprecedented time. I’m particularly excited about how folks from different parts of the world can be in the same rooms & attend their favorite events all with the click of a button.Now, again, if we think about, this idea can absolutely exist & thrive outside of a pandemic. But novel solutions to once hidden problems only come about when those problems are deeply felt. I’m bullish about where Run the World can go — I don’t think any other company is solely tackling this kind of problem in a focused way — & extremely excited about how it’s making the world a more global place.

The situations we’re forced into sometimes help us find opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise sought out.

These were only two out of a plethora of examples of innovations improving & starting up at this time. A couple others I can think of:

  • The crazily hyped Clubhouse voice chat app
  • Tandem chat, a virtual office (& any other online collab software for that matter!)
  • My beloved – livestreaming for the Filipino

On the flipside, a couple of problems I still think no one is elegantly solving that can be extremely impactful now, and beyond:

  • Online education!! Many different players, but not one that stands out as something adequate enough to mimic a classroom (many colleges still use Zoom)
  • Livestreamed exercise classes where you can really feed off other people’s energy (Zoom’s doesn’t cut it)
  • Virtual dance classes – I practice with my dance group every Thursday & it’s so hard to tell what’s left from right?!
  • Virtual Church — seriously. My Catholic family and the millions out there  pray for a better solution to this
  • would kill

  • Netflix party but for listening to music/audio (c’mon Spotify)

This isn’t unlike an entrepreneur, whose “unusual” background gives them a varied perspective thus allowing them to find a niche problem with a novel solution. It’s how successful companies like Spanx (underwear for women built by women) or Patreon (platform for artists built by artists) were conceived.

All it takes is a little change in perspective 🙂

Innovation & opportunities come from unlikely situations or alternate perspectives. Best we capture the opportunities this new normal provides.

Any thing that comes to mind for you? 🙂

P.S. So grateful to have been a part of the panel. Thanks, Janssen Choong for the invite! Check out Colin Pal’s Medium article & the rest of the speakers here: