The Coming Cambrian Entrepreneurial Explosion

Everything is aligned for a big bang of business.

Lady Earth is 4.5 billion years old and while life may have appeared much earlier, it indisputably existed a billion years later. Until the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago, we floated around in a primordial soup of single-celled organisms, and then wham: “Life” as we learned from Jurassic Park, “finds a way.” It took billions of years for one cell to multiply, but it has been up and to the right ever since.

If you are an entrepreneur or considering becoming one, now is your Cambrian moment. COVID-19 has been as lethal to some industries as it has been to people. Commercial real estate, aviation, events, and hospitality, are but a few of the casualties. Business and technology have a cadence: innovation, adoption, dominance, decline, renewal. Not in 2020. The economy ruptured as the ground in an earthquake. Trends accelerated five, 10, 15 years in the societal bat of an eye. Improbable new commercial life forms, Zoom as an example, bypassed many developmental steps to achieve dominance in what seemed like the time it takes to make a, well, Zoom call.

Scientists explain the Cambrian explosion as the effect of a confluence of events, including atmospheric oxygenation, ascendant calcium levels in the oceans, and normalization of global temperatures. An exceptional alignment of factors is fanning the flames of today’s economic Cambrainism. For most of commercial history, preservation of the status quo was the presumption. Now, even stodgy GM made the previously unfathomable announcement that it will completely forsake the internal combustion engine and go all electric by 2035— every plant, every vehicle, every country.

Operating companies now know to change or die; new ones attack slow-moving industries in wolf packs, espousing audacious disruption. Capital has seldom been more embracing or free-flowing; markets have never been larger or more accessible. Search and social tools reach billions of pocketbooks; audiences can be targeted with seemingly atomic precision; iteration cycles have compressed into moments; technology costs have declined vertiginously, and the rewards—the frothy valuations—are the stuff of entrepreneurial dreams.

If you have an idea and think it may have commercial potential, get advice. If you have done your research and are persuaded, see Uncle Charlie and have him write you a check. If you’ve just launched, avoid your own disruption by revisiting your model regularly and pivoting as a fast-changing market requires. If you are scaling your startup, get more capital now—we are overdue for an economic reckoning and these are unkind to the under-capitalized—and accelerate growth. Scaled? Sell! When there is blood on the ground, there will be bargains and you’ll be in a prime position to take full advantage of these.

This Cambrian will be as transformational as the ancient one. In both, denizens of the status quo faced extinction and were replaced by supremely improved executions. Entrepreneurs, the bell has been rung; this is your time. And like Halley’s comet, we won’t see such an alignment again for a long time.