Rob Heaton
Rob/ert Heaton


Software Engineer at Stripe
One track lover/Down a two-way lane

Infinite monkeys and infinite repos

09 Apr 2013

Imagine a startup ecosystem populated by an infinite number of monkeys, working on an infinite number of startups, running on an infinite number of Heroku dynos and Github repos. The simian startups would admittedly have a lot of inherent problems. Monkeys are notoriously bad at customer development, so there would be a very poor feedback loop. There wouldn’t be much in the way of strategy. Pivots would be made at random and more often than not into something involving faeces. The company would smell, which would make hiring very difficult, and since monkeys are very territorial new hires would frequently get mauled to death on their first day. Users would have to deal with a whole host of dubious products. There would be an app for making grocery shopping more dangerous. There would be an app for hailing cabs, except all the cabs are made of bread. There would be a marketplace for democratizing setting badgers on fire. Many of these startups would fail in their first 2 years of operation.

But each company would also have a lot of good properties. They wouldn’t pay any notice to flimsy trends, since monkeys don’t read TechCrunch. They wouldn’t worry about appeasing their investors. They wouldn’t be afraid of taking risks or making bold decisions that might later look stupid. They would have no qualms about sticking to a long-term vision, but would be equally comfortable making courageous shifts into new spaces. They would act without fear.

The resulting ecosystem would be arguably more diverse, more innovative and overall better for consumers. Instead of having 8 million photo sharing apps and 11 million social network aggregators, you would instead have an infinite number of truly bold products. It would be unfortunate when Monkey Instagram deleted all your photos and pivoted into doing swimming via email, and the cost of domain names involving monkey puns would skyrocket. But such is the price of progress.

I’m not about to say that you should start building product in a purely random fashion, but there is something to be said for the naive fearlessness with which our monkey brethren approach their startups. Ignoring trends, not worrying about looking stupid and being capable of crushing your enemies' skulls with your mighty paws are all characteristics of the most successful and innovative companies. Creating something transcendentally awesome requires doing stuff that at the time looks completely random, and it’s the ability and willingness to do this that will make you incredible.

Have the courage to try things that look like they could only have been conceived by an inexhaustible supply of apes. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing to be an Infinite Monkey Startup.

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