World building and venture capital


I had lunch today with my old mate Phil Morle, Partner in deep tech venture capital firm Main Sequence Ventures. We talked about how to take entrepreneurs and leaders into thinking beyond obvious linear extrapolations from the present. 

We agree that even the next few years, let alone the next decade, are likely to be absolutely extraordinary. Today, any startup founder’s business premise needs to be framed from a vision of what the future will look like, not on what the world is like today. The success of tomorrow’s billion dollar companies will be built on opportunities that are still emerging.

I described some of the futurist tools that I use with business leaders, such as deconstructing the forces that shape and reshape trends, “backcasting” to explore possible pathways to the future, and various scenario planning methodologies, simple and more complex. 

I pointed to world building, what science-fiction writers do to frame their stories, as perhaps the most relevant tool for entrepreneurs. It helps them clarify and describe the many facets and dimensions of the future business environment they envisage. 

A good entrepreneur should be able to not just define the critical assumptions in their business case, but also give a rich description of tomorrow’s world in which their business will thrive, and a rationale for why this is likely to happen.

The book AI 2041 by leading AI research Kai-Fu Lee, authored with science fiction writer Chen Quifan, is an excellent example of world building in order to understand some of the implications and possibilities stemming from the next decades of AI progress.

The Future of Life Institute, author of the recent call for a 6 month pause on the further development of AI models, also works to help us frame positive futures by running world building competitions. 

The winners of their recent world building competition are well worth a read as examples of detailed, useful descriptions of possible future worlds that can help inspire us. Similar world building exercises would be fantastic complements to any investment proposal.

If you’re building a high-potential venture, spend the time to explore and describe the world in which your company will be exceptionally successful. By the time it has scaled, the world will be markedly different from today. How, precisely?

If you’re investing in a startup, ask the founders to share their understanding of the future world in which their venture will succeed. This is not about financial forecasts. It is about having clarity on where the world is going, how that will happen, how it will evolve, and how their venture will seize the resulting opportunities. 

In order to succeed in tomorrow’s worlds, first build them in your mind.