America: The First Startup

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Few things should give us pause during this huge holiday weekend: the crack of a firework, the first notes of the Star Spangled Banner, a dry swallow of hot dog bun. But if you have a moment for introspection, ponder the notion of our great nation as the world’s first startup. Hear me out.

America's Founding was like a Startup's

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Startups are newly-hatched, fast-growing, scalable companies that use the most advanced technology to search for new markets. Seen from the right historical perspective, our founding fathers were the prototype for today's startup founders, sending their own brand of innovation across the amber waves. Remembering that the first venture capitalists were also adventure capitalists, any modern entrepreneur owes a nod to the strapping shoulders they stand upon.

American democracy was disruptive,  a new kind of governmental technology. It was inspired by the proto-democratic aspects of Greece and Parliament, yet wholly distinct from the world's Autocracies and Oligarchies. Pitches, too, don't get much more disruptive that Patrick Henry's  ultimatum, "Give me liberty or give me death," and it could be argued that American democracy triggered a global trend. (see graph)

Searched for new Markets, Just like a Startup

Before San Francisco had a bridge, before the Sooners got stuck in  Oklahoma, before Pilgrims  had to beg turkeys off of the locals one harsh winter, there was a surge of mercantilism driving colonists toward the New World. Once arrived, the  impulse to spread into new markets propelled America's first entrepreneurs over undiscovered horizons. For example, the fad of beaver hats pushed us north into the land of poutine, and the naughty cousins Rum and Tobacco spread a very vice-y gospel from America to consumers over the horizon. We do live in the land of  "fruited planes," but speculation has sent entrepreneurs over far  fences in search of the greenest grass.

Hockey Stick Growth, Just like a Startup

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Every startup wants to see exponential, "hockey stick" growth.  Startup America, after the first few lean decades, really grew exponentially in the departments of democracy and the dollar. After simmering in a kind of "beta testing," American GDP took off after  the Industrial Revolution, causing the hockey stick graph of exponential growth to shoot skyward after 1800.

Some of the credit must go towards innovative use of barter and credit. Even in the seventeenth century, a complex system of domestic and foreign exchanges helped fuel the growth of our economy, and laid the foundation for many of the market systems of today.

To illustrate another fast-growing aspect of our nascent America, think about how the colonial population grew from 40,000 in 1650 to 235,000 just fifty years later. In an era more invested in witch hunts than angel investors, in a time when bootstraps were actual bootstraps, some interesting precedents  fueled our country's "first rounds" of funding.  Colonial New England's economy was steadily growing, despite a lack of staple crops worth exporting, because  the economic environment was being groomed for growth. Our forefathers had the foresight to subsidize mills, and invest in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, inns and ferries. The legal climate was ripe as well, since our little startup of a country still bore the hallmarks of our current system for resolving disputes, enforcing contracts and protecting property rights.

Innovators used the Latest Technology, Just like a Startup

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Capitalizing on  a technological edge has been the calling card of forward-thinkers since time immemorial. Enterprising Vikings made it here in the first place using their advanced shipbuilding techniques, and it's been a race ever since.  For example, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson displayed a Renaissance-man aptitude for politics and inventions that brought us things like the Declaration of Independence, bifocals,  and boozy  dumbwaiters. Eli Whitney's  cotton gin launched an industry into a new order of magnitude, and the Wright Brothers channeled Icarus from a Carolina sand dune.

From Sir Walter Raleigh to Siri, America's always been a land of startups- of founding fathers and mothers of invention.

 

About the Author: Dave Gentry is a fan of progress and recess.  He believes in Olde English, new fortune cookies, and he answers to #davertido.

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