(This is part 2 of 2-part series. You can read part 1 here)
3) Reluctance to Get Down and Dirty
Take a gander at some of the Lean startup methodology books. There is a reason why this line of thinking has become quite severely influential for startups around the world.
The principles are quite sound: information and validation over guesswork and assumption.
Getting to that information? You have to talk to a lot of customers. You have to SYSTEMATICALLY do it in an unbiased manner. You have to do it over and over. You have to iterate your product over and over.
This is serious, rigorous work. You want success, as with anything worthwhile, you have to pay the piper.
But I think this pitfall goes beyond merely fulfilling lean requirements.
You have to want it.
You have to want it hard enough that you are willing to do the things you don’t want to do.
Programmers? You will have to do more than code and build. You have to talk to customers. Yes, you’re going to have to help LOOK for them. You have to RUN the firm, keep it afloat.
“Marketing” guys? You’re going to have to have to go through detailed product development. You’re going to have to set up internal processes.
Raise funds. Recruit. Corporate governance. Financials. Managing other founders. Managing investors. Customer service. Selling. Researching.
To any individual, one (or more likely, a bunch) of these tasks is just sheer torture to do.
Each of them can be extra-crucial at different times of a startup’s life. You’re going to have to suck it in and do them.
As a founder, you don’t have a boss, so you have the freedom to do what you want when you want. The temptation then is to just choose to work on the stuff you like.
I know a whole lot of startups that have quietly faded away because of this. Not for lack of talent. But a lack of want.
4) Choosing Optimism Over Realism
I’ve heard or I myself have uttered the following phrases in the last eight years of startup work:
“He’ll come around.” (referring to a partner or employee not pulling his weight)
“Our funds will last.”
“We’ll land that client.”
As a startup founder, you NEED to be an optimist. I mean, that’s exactly what an entrepreneur is, right? Someone with a vision of the future. You can bet its a rosy picture that’s painted in the entrepreneur’s mind.
Ah, but here is the irony of it.
You also need to be a realist at the same time. (perhaps the better term is pessimist)
You have to assume the worst, and prepare for it.
I think as a people, we can be prone to being fatalistic (bahala na), sometimes just HOPING for the ideal scenario to magically appear, choosing to actively ignore the danger signs.
I know some entrepreneurs who ignored obvious warning signs, doing nothing about huge problem areas THEY KNOW are there, but for some reason, they choose not to directly confront. (a number of these perhaps have to do with another Filipino trait we need to overcome – being non-confrontational)
Are your funds looking like they might not last the next 3 months. Do something about it.
Having problems with a founder? It will not magically disappear. TALK to the person. If
A related tip here? You HAVE to be decisive. In a whole lot of startup scenarios, making ANY decision is so much better than INdecision.
5) No Compelling Vision
This often stems from either of two reasons:
a) The idea isn’t compelling enough to be worth of a “vision”
Another milk tea wannabe.
An idea with no clear customer. (when you cannot explain who exactly will DESPERATELY want it)
An idea you’ve been pitching for 3 years that no one seems to want to bite at.
A small idea.
You know how to identify a good idea? It generates excitement. Energy. When you talk about it with people, you see eyes light up, and people throw around their own ideas on how to build on it. Then people begin asking “fishing” questions like, “So what are your plans with this idea? Where are you taking it?” (hoping you’d ask them to help out)
A bad idea tends to generate a lot of questions and pauses. It generates awkward moments when the person you talk to WANTS to get excited about your idea (you did talk to him about his idea), but is a lousy actor. They begin to ask you questions covering areas you ALREADY THOUGHT you explained like:
“Who is the target market again?”
“Why do think this will work again?”
(and usually, there’s a spattering of non-words thrown in, like “uhm” or “ahhh,” like “Uhm…who will be buying this product again? (waits for your answer) Ahhhh”)
On the other hand, a good idea is typically absorbed quickly by the listener. The listener also will tend to expand the subject matter by talking about how it can be applied to situations in HIS circle of influence, for example, “Hey, that’s a cool idea! And you know, aside from administrators, I think even the teachers I work with in school will just LOVE that.”
Don’t get married to an idea. Validate with people in the industry you are targeting. Allow people to build on your idea without getting defensive. (Huwag mong agawin yung idea ko!)
b) The CEO is not compelling enough
There is a HUGE advantage if your CEO is a great pitchman. What a great pitchman does is to sell the vision.
Steve Jobs was just AWESOME at this. In fact, people who work with him say he had a “reality distortion field” around him. You might be convinced of one thing before you talk to Steve, but after speaking to him, he’ll have you believe HIS vision instead.
Selling the vision is EXTREMELY important. You have to be compelling. Compelling enough that you get co-founders to go all-in with you. That you get the BEST employees. Compelling enough that potential clients will trust you enough to do business for you even if your startup hasn’t proven itself. Compelling enough that investors will part with their hard-earned money for you.
These are ESSENTIAL startup activities.
Even if you have a GREAT idea, if your delivery falters, then it almost doesn’t matter.
If you cannot COMMUNICATE a compelling vision, then the answer is simple: get another co-founder to be CEO. Don’t sabotage your startup and force yourself to play a part you know someone else can be better at.
(Do you know someone who will resonate with this post? Perhaps someone whom you know is cooking up a startup? Be a blessing and share!)