“Whiplash,” Entrepreneurs and Angel Investments: Two Takeaways

By: Elizabeth Usovicz, Principal of WhiteSpace Consulting, as part of a series she writes for ACA aimed at entrepreneurs, "Your Pitch is Just the Beginning." 

Technological change occurs at breakneck speed. In 1965. Moore’s law first predicted that computer chip size would shrink exponentially, while processing speed would double every 18 months. When high-velocity innovation intersects with a globally networked world population, the result is cognitive whiplash. “Whiplash” is also the title of a recently published book based on the premise that “our technologies have outpaced our ability, as a society, to understand them.”

“Whiplash”: A User’s Manual

Author Joi Ito is Director of MIT’s Media Lab, as well as an entrepreneur and angel investor. His co-author, Jeff Howe, teaches at Northeastern University and is the Contributing Editor to Wired magazine who coined the term “crowdfunding.”  In “Whiplash, How to Survive Our Faster Future,” Ito and Howe outline a user’s manual of nine principles for adapting to an environment of rapid and relentless technology advancements. 

Whiplash is a thought-provoking, relevant read for entrepreneurs that cites a wide range of examples of the principles in action. Here’s a brief summary of two of Whiplash’s nine principles, and my perspectives on essential takeaways for entrepreneurs seeking angel investment.

Compasses Over Maps

Ito and Howe point out that maps require a detailed knowledge of the environment. Maps also assume that there is one “best” route. Start-ups, by definition, are navigating unknown terrain, and a compass mindset provides more flexibility to guide the execution and achievement of goals.

If you’re developing a business plan or preparing a presentation for investors, here are ways to incorporate a compass mindset:

  • Whiteboard the key elements. Areas to include in a presentation are Products and Services, Market Opportunity, Business Model and Market Strategy, or if you’re developing a plan, consider using the Business Model Canvas as a template.
  • Summarize your primary goals, and the assumptions underlying your goals, for each area.
  • Challenge your assumptions. Explore the answers to “why” and “what-if” questions.
  • Use different assumptions and identify other options for achieving the goals.
  • Review your whiteboard with advisors or team members with different perspectives.

A compass mindset keeps you focused on your goals and open to other options to reach them – two traits that are essential to working with investors.

Risk Over Safety

Are you playing it safe with innovating? Or are you taking the risks worth taking?

“It pays to take risks” is the essence of the Risk Over Safety principle. Both entrepreneurs and investors, Ito and Howe observe, must “weigh the cost of doing something now against the cost of doing something later.”

Ito’s motto for the MIT Media Lab is “deploy or die.” If you’re an entrepreneur waiting for ideal conditions before you talk about your concept, deploy an app, launch a service or approach potential angel investors, you’re playing it safe. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What risks would move your concept or company forward?
  • What’s getting in the way of your taking that risk?
  • What’s the worst that can happen? What are the best-case to worst-case scenarios?
  • Can I live with the worst-case outcomes?
  • What happens if I don’t take this risk?

It pays to be prepared, and it also pays to take the risks that matter.

As Ito notes, “Change doesn’t care if you’re ready.” Innovative technology has the potential to improve our lives as well as challenge our abilities to put it to use. “Whiplash” describes Ito’s must-have characteristics for coping, whether we are entrepreneurs, investors or end users.  


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