Thursday, March 28, 2013

WHY Entrepreneurship is Hard, Part Deux

Again, nothing new or original about someone saying entrepreneurship is hard.  In fact, given the repetition there from my last post, I guess it's not even original to say it's not original.  Or something like that.

Anyway, the main theme of my last post was that when EVERY task is an implied task, it's very easy to lose focus.  It's very easy and very tempting to *just* do the things you like.  In fact, absent some kind of outside discipline (i.e. a Board, an Advisory Team, a co-founder, or a strong conscience), the path of least resistance is going to beat the path of greatest effectiveness.

For all those reasons, if someone tells you he or she is forming a start-up, and the only follow-up reason offered is the desire to "be my own boss," grip your wallet a bit tighter.

And now on to reason #2:  You're either a visionary or a nut, but no one really knows, including you.

Let's say it was the mid-1990s, and a guy approaches you saying, "I'm going to pack all my earthly belongings into the trunk of my car, drive to Seattle, and then set up an operation there to sell books online."

What do you think you would've said back?  I'm not judging in any case, and there's no way you could've known that guy would go on to set up one of the largest, most powerful online brands (that sells a heckuva lot more than books, btw) by 2013.

But any good entrepreneur is frequently soliciting advice.  Much of this winds up contradicting itself.   Use a freemium model.  Don't use a freemium model.  Try direct mail.  Don't use direct mail, it's a waste.  Go right to clients.  No, work through intermediaries.  Use the media.  Don't e-mail reporters until you're more established.  And so on, and so on.  Meanwhile, you hear from some people who think you're sitting on a pile of gold, others who tell you "don't quit your day job" and then the vast middle group of people, who may listen politely but don't really care.  (Oh, and I would argue that no one without real 'skin in the game' truly does everything needs to be put through that filter, too).

If you ignore everything you hear, you're pigheaded (and will probably fail).  But if you listen to everything, you'll be like the proverbial Buridan's Ass -- the donkey who was both hungry and thirsty, and equidistant from a water source and a food source.  Wracked by indecision for days -- was he more hungry, or more thirsty? -- the donkey died of both hunger and thirst simultaneously.

The (sort of) simple answer to all this can be found in the feedback loop you get from customers.  If they're *buying* your product and service, something is working; if they're not, it ain't.  So stop *selling* to people who aren't even prospects or leads anyway, and spend more time with your leads and prospects.

And have a team.  There was a famous blog article written a few years ago titled, "18 Reasons Why Start-Ups Fail."  Reason #1?  Solo founder.  There are many things that factor into this, but I just want to quickly put that through the prism of the two reasons listed above -- for a solo founder, it's just that much easier to fall into the trap of 'comfortable.'  Kind of like cheating just a little bit at solitaire, it's mighty tempting.  And as to the second reason, sometimes one plus one equals far more than two -- a quick sanity check to a bad idea, or encouragement for a good one, can only come from someone with the right perspective, and enough of a stake to care.

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