Robbie Maltby

June 4, 2022

Dream me a start-up

Everyone has dreams.

They're built into human biology.

They have an important function for human civilisation.

Dreams allow us to act out possibilities in our sleep that would be too risky in real life.

Some of us talk, some even walk in their sleep (guilty!) but in general we only act out a small portion of the dream.


Sleep, it turns out, is actually an evolutionary trait we've developed due to the complex nature of sight.

Eyes are either designed for seeing in the day, at night, or the bit in between.

So we sleep because spending our energy in an environment unsuited to our eyes is inefficient¹


Do you see what connects those two strategies?



In both cases, we're optimising for energy expenditure and survival.

Every twist and turn in bed being the miniature version of a 'pivot' in start-up terms.

The flailing hand emulating the thwarting of a competitor, or shift in market dynamics.

The human body has evolved over millions of years to efficiently work through myriad ideas before attempting them in the real world.

So what can start-ups learn from human biology?

Are there such things as testing frameworks for dreams?

In fact, there are.

We have things like Jobs to be done.

We have qualitative, and quantitative research - synthesised into insights - educated guesses that our dreams may actually come true.

We have strategic planning and predictions which put our dreams into perspective and allow us to decide on the energy investment we give them.

Then we have dream optimisations, to help them grow and ensure their survival.

But dreams have a tendency to be taken too literally - especially at the beginning.

They are invested in too heavily, without the same due diligence the human body has been developing for millions of years.

We have things called Start-up incubators that try their best to separate unrealistic dreams from real ones, but they survive on dreams coming true so their evaluation criteria are loose at best.

Unrealistic dreams and dreaming aren't so bad when it only involves the dreamer, and a few of their believers.

But dreams, especially those of unicorns, can captivate the imagination of many - and their inability to survive contact with the real world can have devastating effects.

We're currently exiting an era where dreams have been believed in too easily.

The start-up community call it The Winter, and the dreamers that have been over-invested in are realising their coats are too thin.


So does this mean we should stop dreaming? Do we simply stop investing energy in other people's dreams?

Certainly not.

So how do we verify that dreams could in fact become a reality? That the night-time utterance, or wave of the hand were in fact the main obstacles to be overcome?

That's when you need people who aren't caught up in the dream.

That's when you need people to ask the hard questions about what makes the dream real.

The frameworks mentioned above are a start, but dreaming is contagious so accountability plays a big part.

We need people with time-tested models and frameworks, who can sift out the good from the bad, lifting both kinds from their dream state into being fully awake.


¹. Credit to: The Hunter Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century for the insight on why we sleep.

About Robbie Maltby

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