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ETS: A Skateboarding Analogy

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

One of our cohort applicants asked if we are creating a group that is too likeminded with everyone focusing on ETS. His comment reminded me of a documentary I saw in college, Dogtown and The Z-Boys. It was about skateboarding, a topic I did not know much about. It was interesting to see these kids experiment with skateboarding after a friend put it on in the dorm TV. Having no context for who the Z-Boys were, I was shocked to learn that they competed in a tournament and completely destroyed all the competitors. This went against my understanding of talent and how in a world with billions of people it should be fairly well distributed. I realized that a specific subculture can outclass the rest of the world. What the Z-Boys showed was that even when taken from a random sample as small as a neighborhood, you can create a group that can beat the rest of the world. And that insight in a way is what we’re bringing to Vixul. To truly change the world you have to create your own subculture superior to the status quo. The analogy between the Z-Boys and ETS goes deeper.

Img Source: IMDB

Capitalize On Disruption

The success of the Z-Boys happened following the introduction of urethane wheels on skateboards. These new sturdier, faster wheels were the underlying disruption the Z-Boys capitalized on. The understanding and expectations that experienced skaters had about the limits on the sport had subtly been changed. It’s just that nobody recognized it. Except for the boys in a poor neighborhood who did not know anything about the sport. This is in fact the key to ETS. While the large companies are trying to understand the new technologies, ETS companies are focused on creating new tech subcultures that redefine the limits of what technology can do.

Bring Diverse Experiences

The Z-Boys were not complete newbies to high flying sports. They were mostly surfers and brought those expectations on what’s possible. They rode their boards like they surboarded, catching air, and creating new classes of tricks. The typical skater would have appreciated the underlying change as incremental, and used it to finesse their existing techniques. Rather by being outsiders they were able to transfer their diverse experiences. The same is true in the ETS space. You take people with different backgrounds, who look at problems differently. Their instinctual experiments are different. And they are able to redefine the field. It is exemplified by DevOps: developers doing Ops like development redefined how the field worked.

The Value Of Focus

The key to this impact is focus. This group of friends was all focused on the same thing. They were constantly learning from each other and honing their craft. They each had a laser sharp focus on experimenting through the new medium of skateboarding. While you’re bringing diverse experiences, you need to focus your talents on one thing. For the Z-Boys it was skateboarding. And for this same reason for an ETS company to shine it needs to have a sharp focus. Remember, the goal is not to be good. The goal is to redefine what good means.

High Performance Subcultures Are Common

I was initially shocked at the success of the Z-Boys. But when we think about it, high performance subcultures are extremely common. Center of learning in Baghdad, Center of music in Vienna Austria, Center of technology and startups in Silicon Valley. All of these places created their own subcultures different from the world. The significance of this to ETS is that we should not think of a disruptive subculture as an exception, rather it is the rule. And any new change is first going to show up in subcultures that ETS startups can build and define.

They’ll Believe It When They’ll See It

A bunch of teenage vagrants redefine the sport of skateboarding, achieving fame and fortune sounds too much like a fairy tale. It’s no use trying to convince everyone of the value. Rather as much as you have a focus on perfecting your offering, you should have a focus on narrowing who you are offering to. The naysayers will become believers when they see the results. The goal is to find the right people so you can produce the results. An ETS company should have the same awareness. You need to know who your customer is, what they look for, what is the burning problem you can solve for them to gain their trust. As you go deeper you’ll be able to gain the trust of more people by demonstrating your competency. Check out this post for an in depth look at how the technology adoption curve impacts an ETS company.

In Vixul, we are on a mission to help ETS founders succeed by building an ecosystem designed to help them. Learn more about Vixul at our website.

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