Technical Due Diligence and Venture Investing — How Much Is Enough?

When I was running reviews for tech magazines back in the nineties, a very well-known large computing company had a breakthrough they wanted to show us. Pitched as a powerful mainframe computer in a box the size of a PC, it had the potential to upend the computing world. Of course we wanted to see it, test it and play with it.

The company said we could only see it if we flew up to their labs. So we did. And yes, that system seemed to do all that was promised and more. At least until one of our skeptical reviewers noticed the big cable snaking out of the conference room we were in, and into the closet.

“What’s in here”, he asked, and before the horrified PR people could respond he flung the door open, revealing a technician sitting in front of a terminal, apparently feeding commands to a bigger computer, and then funneling the results to the screen on the conference room table.

These and other promises of technology’s utopian visions — many of which never materialized — created a streak of skepticism wider than a PC Jr’s keyboard inside of our reviews team. Whenever we were presented with a suitably advanced technology, we always looked for the magic pixie dust inside. And we often found it.

I’m constantly reminded of how new technologies can be overhyped — sometimes maliciously, but more often simply because tech entrepreneurs are as optimistic as I am skeptical — if not more. And now that I’m venture investing at Social Starts I see a similar situation unfolding. But unlike in our test labs, technology due diligence isn’t routinely implemented, particularly during early stage investing.

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