I’ve got news for you. Chances are your startup was going to fail even before you started reading this post, not because I said so, but because statistically most startups fail. Don’t let me get you down; it’s just the way it is in the sad, bedraggled business of startup-founding.
So next time you’re sitting there, reading about the latest exit in TechCrunch as you listen to your lead develop proudly tell us about all the bugs he found on your back-end…. Consider this question:
Can you describe your startup as “revolutionary?” If you can’t, you’re probably just spinning your wheels.
I don’t mean to dissuade you. I probably don’t even know you yet I want you to succeed and I’m rooting for you. I want to help arm you for the struggle.
At the risk of offending those who don’t like when we use war as a metaphor for business — startups are a battle. You may have something that’s potentially “disruptive” or “paradigm-shifting” in your arsenal, and you may be well on your way to “killing it.” More likely, rather than “crushing it” you’ll end up the crush-ee.
So be honest with yourself (to the extent someone drunk with ambition and blinded by confirmation bias can), and answer the following questions:
1. If you’re one of the three or four people in this world with Internet access who have not yet watched Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk, watch it now. Can you articulate your “Why?” Can you complete the sentence “At [my startup] we believe that …….”?
2. Is your Why/Belief strong and emotional enough to get other people excited? I’m talking about the people that will work for you, use your product and / or give you investment or revenue dollars. Does it give you or them goose bumps? (I have to tell you that I literally get goose bumps when I talk about my portfolio companies, and I love and relish that feeling. People don’t always agree with the Why/Belief, but that’s par for the course — not everyone believes in a revolution, there will always be a status quo.)
3. Are the people who work for you, or will work for you, motivated purely by the lure of financial gain, or are they “bought in” to your venture’s Why/Belief? If the former, things will be tough. If the latter — well, things will also be tough, because startups are tough. But at least you’ll have people alongside you whose shared belief carries them, and you, (hopefully) through those tough times.
4. Can you identify the object of your revolution — the villain? It may be sucky competition who doesn’t understand your target market’s pain. It may be your target market’s own malaise or naiveté and their unwillingness to try new things, that you need to overcome. But I guarantee you’ll need to fight, battle, overcome something — do you know what it is and how to defeat it? (You know what, Harvard Business Review? These battle metaphors really are useful…) If you haven’t seen this one either, watch Gladwell’s TED on David and Goliath to understand how perceived underdogs like you can size up and face your enemy / villain with confidence.
5. Is your solution sufficiently different than any other direct or indirect method of dealing with your target issue? Ben Horowitz famously says that “any technology startup must …. build a product that’s at least 10 times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing.” I don’t know if I agree that it needs to be 10x, but it better be a bunch of x, otherwise you may be about to plunge into the Black Hole of “Meh.”
You want to get to a position where you can answer these questions positively, where you get goose bumps when you describe the Why? and the villain in your startup’s narrative, to employees, customers, partners and investors.
Not everyone will feel what you feel or believe what you believe; that’s what revolutions are about. But trust me, those goose bumps will keep you going when other things fail.