Great entrepreneurs are willing to being wrong.
Nobody likes to be wrong. But for a startup CEO, being willing to test your assumptions can be the difference between success and failure.
In this morning’s end-of-the-week meeting of the 4thly Startup Accelerator, I asked each of the startup teams what they had learned this week, as they’ve been building their startup.
“We did a bunch of customer development calls”, said one of the CEO’s in the cohort, “and we learned that our startup idea will never work”.
You might think that would be a very depressing realization for an entrepreneur to have mid-way through a startup accelerator program, but he seemed downright cheerful about it. “I’m so happy we did those calls. The great news is that we think we’ve found a different vertical to deploy our technology to, and we’re very excited about it”.
This, of course, is the heart of the Lean Startup Methodology: Learn as much as you can from prospective customers before you start developing the product.
I’m passionate about this because I’ve done it wrong more than once in my career. I once founded a company based on my awesome idea, I hired a bunch of expensive software engineers who also thought my idea was awesome, and we spent two years building it. When we launched it turned out we were pretty much the only ones who thought it was awesome. Customers certainly didn’t—no one bought it. We wasted a lot of time and money building a product that no one wanted. I wish I had that money back (so do my investors).
In the case of the entrepreneur in our accelerator meeting this morning, he is able to pivot very inexpensively (since nothing is actually built yet) and deploy his same technology vision in a different way. As Steve Blank says, “In a startup, the founders define the product vision and then use customer development to find customers and a market for that vision.”
That’s the right way to do it.
As Marc Andreessen says, if you do this process right, “the market pulls the right product out of the startup”.
One of an entrepreneur’s worst enemies is confirmation bias. We tend to fall in love with our startup idea and then all day long we see evidence that confirms how brilliant our idea is (and ignore any evidence to the contrary). This is how bad products are built, and how many startups fail.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”. — Mark Twain
Letting go of confirmation bias, letting go of the belief that our assumptions are true, is hard. Testing your assumptions and being willing to be wrong isn’t an easy thing to do. But it’s what great entrepreneurs do, because it tends to lead to success.