Tagged: lean startup

Why are startups hard?

David Goehring

Is it because we’re trained and educated in to a different way of thinking or are they inherently hard?

This post from Derek Sivers C Dixon got me thinking. From the first day of school we are trained to think in a certain way. Essentially, we’re all managers or at least that’s what we’re expected to become.

Be a part of the machinery. Optimise it, tweak it, but don’t disrupt it! That’s what school teaches you.

But we know that entrepreneurship is different. Steve Blank, Eric Ries and the rest of the lean startup movement have taught us that a startup is a completely different beast than a company with an established business model and product.

Instead of optimising you should be experimenting.

Instead of tweaking you should be pivoting when the experiments fail.

And disruption is on top of the agenda.

With the lean startup process we now have the manual (sort of) for doing it. But it’s still so darn hard. The manager within us keeps holding us back.

So, I wonder: are startups hard because we have to fight the instinctive urges that one and a half decade of management thinking training (aka “school”) has programmed us with or are they hard because, well, it’s simply hard? What do you think?

Stealth Disease and First Mover Paranoia

Lean Startup-guru Eric Ries talks about a common ailment amongst the startups he meets: Stealth Disease:

They are too afraid to show something imperfect to the world or are afraid that a competitor will steal their idea.

I would like to highlight another common sickness that is sort of the flip side to the Stealth Disease: the First Mover Paranoia – the idea that your product has to be absolutely unique or else you will fail. Any sign of a competitor doing the same thing or something similar will immediately kill the startup idea as the founders become morally defused.

You would have thought that examples such as Google (not the first search engine), Facebook (not the first social network) or Amazon (not the first online book store) would eradicate this disease, but no, it is still very much present and viral. I see the symptoms of it all the time – and yes, I have myself also been infected from time to time.

I wonder how many startups or potential startups fall victim to these two diseases. The First Mover Paranoia is extra vicious since it strikes so early. Often long before the execution of the startup idea is even started.

The cure for the First Mover Paranoia is to not view competitors as impassable roadblocks but as a verification that the idea actually works and has a market. That is in fact great news! Now the challenge becomes to find holes in the existing market (geographic, pricing, quality etc.) or to improve on what the competitor is doing.

Tough, but less tough than trying to bring something completely new to the market.

Build a system, not a product

The turtle has an idea. He thinks it is so great he doesn’t tell anyone about it because he is afraid they might steal it. He keeps it locked in a box, waiting for the perfect opportunity to get funding and make the idea reality. He is waiting and he is waiting and he is waiting…

The grasshopper builds a product. He knows that the idea in the box will never build itself. What matters is action and getting started. So he builds and he builds and he builds…

The master grows a system. She knows that no matter how good she thinks her idea is, what matters is only what the customer thinks. That is why the master builds her startup as a learning system that can adapt to new findings – evolve. She knows that in a startup, both the problem and the solution are unknowns. The idea is useless until proven otherwise. The product is useless until proven otherwise. So you must always be learning.

Unlike the turtle, the master is not afraid to talk about her idea because that is how you learn.

Unlike the grasshopper, the master is not afraid to release an early beta product because that is how you learn.

The master is not afraid of failure because that is how you learn.

The master builds her product and her entire company like a living system, an organism with eyes and ears, agile and adaptive.

Because that is how you learn.