Why “Why now?” is fundamental to startup success

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In today’s email, we’re looking at the idea of timing in startups.


Read time: 3.5 minutes

tl;dr: Timing is fundamental to success, you need to have a great response to the question Why now? and there are clear ways to do it.


First, what do I mean by timing? There are a couple of ways of looking at it.

  1. The stage your business is at, eg. an investor suggests that it’s a ‘no’ right now because you need more traction or you need to find a technical co-founder

  2. The moment you’re in; your response to the question Why now?

So today I’m focusing on (2), the fundamental question of Why now?


Why – Why now – is fundamental…


Analysis by Bill Gross –  founder of incubator Idealab – suggests timing is the most important driver of startup success.


In fact, according to Bill, timing is more fundamental than team, idea, business model and funding.

WATCH: Bill’s 6 minute TED talk on the fundamentals of startup timing.

The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed | Bill Gross

Lillian Li also talks about the role of timing in assessing the viability of a company, introducing us to the concept of Fengkou in Chinese tech (essentially a word for momentum and something being hot right now).

Think about it – if you can’t prove the time is right for your startup, then maybe the time isn’t right for your startup?


Dealing with timing…


Here are some interesting approaches for framing and unpacking the timing of your startup.


WAS – NOW – WILL framework (via Marcus Exall)

WAS – why your product/solution wasn’t possible before

NOW – why the need is acute right now

WILL – how you’re going to ride the wave and take advantage of your great timing

Paul Orlando helpfully unpacks the key drivers of startup timing. In doing so he helps us to think about a wide range of factors: from regulation, network, distribution as well as more societal and behavioural.

So identifying data and trends seems pretty fundamental to answering the fundamental question of Why now?


How you going to do that? Let’s get into the practicality…


Proving your Why now


Tapping into latent knowledge.


If you’re looking at things like macro-economic factors, changes in the law or regulation then the evidence you need might be found from tapping into your own knowledge, your team and experts in your niche.


You have a huge level of latent knowledge around you, sometimes without even knowing it.


Otherwise there is a ton of data available online, often for free, from government websites, big research companies, the big consulting firms etc.


Try out some of these:

Identifying trends.


Big business spends huge amounts on understanding the next big thing, employing those who sell ‘foresight’ as well as insight.


But you are more likely to be doing your own trend-spotting. Read on for how.


Trends are like waves. Catch them too small and they may amount to nothing, wait until they’re bigger and there are probably too many other people muscling in.


When is it simply a fad and when is it a long-term trend in new behaviour? This is an important distinction to make.


Take the example of bao buns. Search data from Google Trends (see below) might suggest they are more a flash in the pan than a long-term trend (the spike actually corresponds with their appearance on The Apprentice).

Tools you can try.


Google Trends

This is an excellent, free tool backed up by Google search data. Tracking search terms over time is potentially incredibly powerful to proving your why now? response.


Take a look at this example of apple cider vinegar (ACV) compared to kimchi. You could demonstrate here that ACV has begun to have its day while kimchi has a more sustainable growth trajectory (the next big thing?).

Dedicated trend websites

I find trendwatching.com is one of the best and offers some free tools and canvasses that can help you gather evidence for your own trends.


Their Consumer Trend Canvas is a free Miro tool which will help you frame and build the rationale for why you’re building something that people need right now.


Pew Research Center

Very US-leaning but has a lot of free data on a wide range of topics. Good for broad topics like demographics, health, workplace, personal finance and more.



Find experts in your niche and see what they’re writing about. Or see something like Steven Van Belleghem’s useful curation of various trend reports under one roof right here.


Time to get evidencing the need for what you’re offering right now.

Good luck – let me know how you get on,

Would you like to learn ‘How to Run Research’?

Would you like to learn how to run your own research?



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