You are an entrepreneur, a builder, and an artist. If you wanted to spend all day "writing up plans" or "researching" you'd be back in the corporate world, right? After all, real artists ship. But one of the biggest mistakes startup founders commit is rushing to make, rather than taking the time to listen and learn. In the past six months I have run across scores of eager entrepreneurs who put their heads down to build a solution without thinking through the basics of their businesses. I recall the crowdfunding startup that raised funds and raced to a beta version but failed to think through which customers they should build for. Then there was the advertising services company that didn't stop and learn about how the marketing world actually works. And I'll never forget the group texting startup that had no clue who might use its service and why. Each company was full of energy, brains and passion, successfully got something into the marketplace...and struggled to move past the early stages. No amount of A/B testing could get them past the basic misses that we already baked into their businesses. There are many reasons that founders seem to be rushing faster-than-ever to build. First, the people who start companies tend to be those with the skills and confidence to put something in the marketplace. After all, software developers like to, well, develop software. Second, by now nearly everyone has read The Lean Startup and taken as gospel that companies should get a "Minimum Viable Product" into market as soon as possible. Lots of investors have fanned the flames by encouraging pitching companies to, "Go ahead and build it...and come back to us when you have some traction." Too often this is an easy way to show companies the door without having to actually reject them and their ideas. There are some deeper human tendencies at play here, too. It might sound counter-intuitive, but making something is often "easier" than planning your approach and getting feedback before you build. Human beings tend to avoid two things, which can kill startups:
- Work you don't like to do - We all naturally gravitate toward the kinds of work that we like and think we're good at, but we need to put our feet in the mud once in a while and do the things we hate in order to get to the greener grass. Most software developers I know would rather bite off their right arm than go to a public park with a clipboard and ask strangers what they think of the new app they are working on. It's also a lot more fun to launch a web page than spend hours Googling for industry facts and figures. An no one likes to sit in front of a blank word doc and write out the 25 reasons why your company might fail. Unfortunately, these un-fun tasks are often the ones that help you learn to build better and dodge bullets.
- Rejection - We don't want people to judge our baby's name before birth, and we don't want people judging our startup idea before it's on the app store. That's why we tend to keep both out of the limelight until the product is delivered and people are much more likely to congratulate you than question your decisions. While it might be a smart idea for baby names, keeping your idea quiet is the absolute worst course of action. You should get as much feedback as possible as early as possible--as it is the best way to learn, adjust and check your assumptions. Ask everyone you know who is even slightly relevant for your business--and ask them to connect you with five other people they know. Don't spend too much time trying to sell or convince them that it's the next Instagram; rather, spend 5 minutes sharing the idea and 25 minutes (or much more) listening to what they like, what they hate, and whether and how they might use it. The earlier you are in the process, the more honest people will be--and after several dozen interviews like this you will vividly understand their needs, along with how you totally missed the mark on your version 1.0.