Startup – the anxious business of business building

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There are many possible motivators for starting your own business. Whatever they may be it’s still a viable business that you are after. It’s not a hobby or a diversion or a side project, it’s building a business that is the ultimate goal behind starting a startup. The other goal, one that is no less important, is to learn as much as you can about business building itself.

It should come as no surprise that when you set up on your startup journey, you set off with a set of proposed assumptions and inherent biases that you then work to prove.  I claim that proving existing assumptions wrong and finding new patterns that have no prior assumptions attached to them have different emotional implications for the founders. Even though “customer development” and “validate everything early and often” are all the rage, we still tend to hold our assumptions and biases as something deeply personal.

Well, last week brought a sobering of sorts. The assumptions that my co-founder and I have considered provable have come under harsh scrutiny of an outside expert, someone I trust and someone who has a solid track record of success and beyond-doubt credibility in this space. You may call it a watershed event, a cold shower – as my cofounder called it, but it was certainly, in its immediate aftermath, a source of great anxiety, concern and new doubts.

We heard the feedback, but we decided to keep going because we still believe we are working on something worthwhile. Expert opinions are expert opinions, but they lead to no revelations. Learning leads to insights, and if it takes another couple months for our users to second the expert opinion it would carry that much more weight in our minds. I think the users should be the ultimate judges of our undertaking. Also, it is my sincere hope that engaging with users will lead to more insights than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down from an expert.

Are we as surefooted as we were a couple of weeks ago? No, of course not. We always had very little surefootedness to speak of. Are we ready to throw in the towel and turn the project that we thought was a business into a hobby? No, that’s not what we intend to do either. We still feel that justliked was worth starting both for the sake of the learning experience it affords and as a business we believe in.

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4 responses to “Startup – the anxious business of business building

  1. Thought provoking post about a challenging problem, sometimes the world is changing or you are operating in an environment which is different from where your advisor developed his expertise. I blogged about “How to Ask An Expert for Help” at http://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2007/12/12/how-to-ask-an-expert-for-help/ which has some suggestions for how to approach other experts to get a second opinion, which would complement your plan to stay the course and see what customers tell you.

    I also blogged about the challenges of advising entrepreneurs at http://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2007/10/16/the-challenge-of-advising-entrepreneurs/ and suggested that someone who is giving you advice should be able to
    True expertise means that you should be able to explain:

    * the symptoms (facts) you looked at,
    * symptoms (facts) that were discarded as not germane,
    * the diagnosis or root cause analysis,
    * the differential between the relevant symptoms (facts) and your diagnosis versus other potential diagnoses,
    * the prescription (advice) and how to apply it,
    * and a prognosis or range of likely outcomes.

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  3. nice post. It is always tough to navigate these waters. A single data point is never enough, no matter how experienced the person, because everyone has their own context, assumptions and historical baggage. I applaud your willingness to hear and contemplate difficult things from customers and respected industry folks alike.

  4. Pingback: Fail slower « one budding entrepreneur's story

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