The First-Timer’s Inferiority Complex

As a first time entrepreneur, it's important to start small. When I was evaluating whether to jump into my first co-founder opportunity, I thought to myself, "This isn't a large industry, but it's broken. This is a problem I can solve, this is a product I can build, this is a space I can own." I heard my own thoughts echoed when a friend, advisor, and investor in the company was selling me on the opportunity. He said to me, "Is this going to be the next $100M exit? Probably not. But could it be flipped in 2 years for $20M? Sure." On the merits of that wisdom, I jumped in.

In my head, it sounded reasonable: bite off what you can chew, and find an opportunity right-sized for the garage. As a first timer, I was supposed to run a lean shop, and this sounded like a lean idea.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. I mistook a small idea for a lean idea.

A lean idea is an idea that has a small entry strategy. Not all big ideas are lean, and not all lean ideas are big. A small idea, on the other hand, is just small. Given that it takes as much of your effort to get a small idea going as a lean one, why would you ever choose one with a limited upside? Even if you don't care about the money, small ideas mean small impact, and no one wants that.

The thing is, it's tempting to go after a small idea. Anything bigger feels overwhelming and makes you question whether you are up to the challenge. But those are just your demons shouting down your better angels.

There's a rift between investors and entrepreneurs. Conventional wisdom in startup circles is that most entrepreneurs make bad VC's and vice versa. I think that's largely true. The characteristics of a great entrepreneur are disjoint from those of a great VC, and while they aren't diametrically opposed (there are many notable examples of great investor-entrepreneurs), they aren't at all inextricably tied. But if you are an entrepreneur, remember that you are also an investor. You may not be a great VC, but you better damn well hold your ideas to the standards of a great investor.

Think of all the companies that VC's reject. Think of all the good companies that VC's reject. Think of all the good companies that top tier VC's reject. Then remember that however selective they need to be, at the end of the day, they are simply investing money, mostly somebody else’s. You, on the other hand, are investing prime years of your life, and you, unlike them, are undiversified in your risk.

You should be ten times more selective. More often than not, though, first time entrepreneurs are far less selective, acknowledging that the ideas they are pursuing are not VC-sized ideas. If anything, many first timers deliberately choose smaller ideas. The reasons they do isn't lack of creativity or foresight. It's an inferiority complex. It's insecurity. Ultimately, it’s just small thinking.

There is no place for insecurity in startups. If you are going to be bold, be bold.

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