1. Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere
While we may look different and speak different languages, the world is flatter than it’s ever been. We are living through a global entrepreneurial renaissance that can be witnessed through the worldwide explosion of entrepreneurial programs, startup accelerators, and corporate innovation incubators started in just the last 10 years.
We all want the same things, fear the same things, and make the same starting mistakes.
2. The Persona of the Garage Entrepreneur Has Changed
Entrepreneurs are no longer just two guys in a garage in Silicon Valley.
They can be found in all walks of life. The triggers for this sudden spike can be attributed to:
- Rising student debt
We are still training the next generation to be workers at an ever increasing tuition cost, but good work has gotten harder to come by…More students are instead seeking out entrepreneurial education and experiences while in college (and even high school) — some with aspirations to build the next Facebook, while others simply want to better equip themselves.
- No lifelong employment
With the security of lifelong employment and pensions gone, more people are looking to get in the driver’s seat and take control of their destiny. Side business startups are on the rise.
- The need for large companies to innovate or be disrupted
The pace of disruptive innovation has been accelerating over the last decade. Even previous disruptors are starting to get disrupted by newcomers. This has magnified the increasingly important role of intrapreneurs.
3. There is No Better Time to Start
What has really accelerated the uptake of entrepreneurship globally is that for the first time in history, we all, more or less, have access to the same tools, knowledge, and resources thanks to the Internet, globalization, and technologies enabled by Open Source and Cloud Computing. It is cheaper and faster than ever before to launch a new business, and there is no better time than the present to start.
This represents an incredible opportunity for all of us.
But there is a dark cloud in all of this.
4. Most Products Still Fail
While we are building more products than ever before, the sad reality is that the success rate of these products hasn’t changed much. The odds are still heavily stacked against starting a new business and most of these products unfortunately still fail.
And that’s a real problem.
We pour a lot of our time, money, and effort into these products. Especially for a first-time entrepreneur, these failures can be a real setback both emotionally and also financially.
5. A Dozen Reasons Why Products Fail
Here are twelve reasons we commonly attribute to failed ideas:
- No money
- Poor team
- Poor product
- Bad timing
- No customers
- Lack of focus
- Lack of passion
- Bad location
- Not profitable
- Burn out
- Legal issues
6. The Number One Reason Why Products Fail
At the heart of all these reasons is one core reason:
We simply build something nobody wants.
All the others are secondary manifestations or rationalizations of this brutal reality.
Why does this happen?
I attribute the entrepreneur’s singular passion for their solution as the top contributor to this failure. This is the Innovator’s Bias that causes us to fall in love with our solution and makes “bringing our baby to life” our sole mission.
But a build-first approach is backwards. It’s backwards because you can’t brute-force a solution without a pre-existing problem.
7. The Number Two Reason Why Products Fail
Failing at something requires starting.
The number two reason why products fail is that they never even get started. We spend too much time analyzing, or planning, or making excuses for not starting — we wait to first write a business plan, or find investors, or move to Silicon Valley.
8. You Don’t Need Permission to Start
The world has changed. Going back just a decade, starting up was expensive. Getting software licenses to build your product, or office space to meet with your team, required capital investment. Today, all these things are free.
The question today isn’t:
“Can we build this?”
“Should we build this?”
You don’t need lots of money, people, or time to answer this question.
9. Don’t Write a Business Plan
Business plans take too long to write and nobody reads them anyway. More importantly, when you're going fast and operating under conditions of extreme uncertainty, you need lightweight dynamic models, not heavyweight static plans. Create a business model instead. It takes 20 minutes versus 20 days. People can’t help but read it and share what they think. That’s a win.
Spend more time building versus planning your business.
10. Have Faith in Yourself. Be Ruthless With Your Ideas
One of the major challenges with ideas is that at the outset, all ideas seem amazing. While passion and determination are essential attributes needed to drive a vision to its full potential, left unchecked they can also turn the journey into a faith-based one driven by dogma.
Reasonably smart people can rationalize anything, but entrepreneurs are especially gifted at this.
11. Take Stock of Your Key Beliefs
Deconstruct your idea into a set of key beliefs using a 1-page Lean Canvas.
Rank your beliefs into three buckets:
- leap of faith,
- anecdotal observation,
Make a commitment to get all your beliefs into the third bucket starting with your riskiest assumptions.
12. Take Stock of Your Key Metrics
"If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."
Ballpark your desired destination before you start. Don't try to estimate your idea's maximum upside potential. This is hard (if not impossible) to see at this stage. Instead, estimate your minimum success criteria. What is the smallest outcome in 3 years that would deem your project a success?
13. Take Stock of Your Key Insights
Creating something new requires a new perspective.
It requires seeing the world differently from others. What key insight or point of view are you putting forward?
Don't worry if your key beliefs, key metrics, and key insights are still on shaky ground. Creating something new isn't easy.
14. Don't Start With an MVP
Most first products miss the mark completely. Taking a build-first approach worked when there was less competition. But the world is different today.
Customers today have lots of choices. When they encounter your half-baked product, they don't turn into beta-testers. They leave.
Without customer feedback, you're left guessing and chasing the mythical kill feature. The build trap ensues.
15. Bootstrap Your Way to Early Traction
Investors today don't fund product development but traction. In a crowded market, investors need to see evidence that people other than your mom and your friends care about your idea. The best evidence is traction or engagement with your idea.
But how do you demonstrate traction without a product?
16. Sell Before You Build
Customers don't buy working solutions. They buy a promise of better. Sell better, before investing time, money, and effort building a better product.
Think Demo-Sell-Build versus Build-Demo-Sell.
When you do this, you end up with a product you know customers will buy versus hope they do.
17. Love the Problem, Not Your Solution
Problems, not solutions, create space for innovation. Customers don’t care about your solution but their goals. Identify the problems or obstacles that get in the way of their goals, and you identify the right solution to build.
Having more passion for your solution than your customer’s problem, is a problem.
18. Focus on Time Versus Timing
You can’t control the timing of your idea but you can control how long you spend on your idea. Unlike money or people which can fluctuate up or down, time only moves in one direction.
Time is your scarcest resource. Spend it wisely.
Time-box everything. The power of a deadline is that it comes due — provided, of course, that the world doesn’t come to an end first. Set an appointment with your team to share your results and discuss how you move forward from wherever you end up by the deadline. Set another deadline and go. This is the best way to hold yourself accountable.
19. Value Your Time Correctly
Sweat equity is the most expensive kind of asset. When you risk adjust sweat equity, your effective hourly rate is closer to $1,000/hr.
- You are investor #1 in your business.
- You can’t just look for a 1x or 2x salary return. You have to think 10x.
- Everyone gets the same 24 hours.
20. Not Acceleration, But Deceleration
Optimizing for time does not mean going fast on everything, but rather slowing down to focus on the right thing. Pareto’s 80/20 rule applies here. Your biggest results will come from just a few key actions.
Your job is to prioritize what’s riskiest first and ignore the rest — until it becomes what’s riskiest.
21. Not Faux Validation, But Traction
The number of features, size of your team, or how much money you have in the bank are not the right measures of progress.
There is only one metric that matters — TRACTION.
Traction is the rate at which you capture monetizable value from customers.
Don’t ask people what they think of your idea.
Only customers matter.
Don’t ask customers what they think of your idea.
Measure what they do.
22. Remove Failure from Your Vocabulary
The fail-fast meme is all about embracing failure as par for the course. However, the taboo of failure is so crippling that most people work really hard to avoid, sugar-coat, or run away from failure. This is counter-productive. You need to instead completely remove “failure” from your vocabulary.
- Break your big ideas or strategies into small, fast, additive experiments.
- Use staged rollouts to implement your ideas from small to large scale.
- Double-down on good ideas, and silently discard your bad ideas.
When you do these three things, you aren’t failing, but course-correcting towards a larger goal.
Remember: Be brutal with your ideas but have faith in yourself.
23. It’s Time to Act on Your Big Idea
There are no shortages of problems in the world. As a founder, you are wired differently. You are wired to seek out solutions. All you have to do is channel your attention on the right problem. And you’ll leave the world better off than when you entered it. Isn’t that all that really matters?
Don’t waste this moment. It’s time to dust off the ideas deep in the recess of your mind and take action.
It’s time to reboot, level up, and just start.