One of the great paradoxes of entrepreneurship is that you have to pursue an opportunity with 110% commitment, but be willing to pivot at a moment’s notice. As the great philosopher Kenny Rogers pointed out, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Stumbling over this paradox caused my friend, serial entrepreneur Mark Pincus, to fail with Tribe, the pioneering social network he founded in 2003. Resolving this paradox allowed Mark to build his next company, Zynga, into a multi-billion dollar market leader.
In this week’s episode of Masters of Scale, Mark explains the importance of realizing that your ideas might be wrong, even when your instincts are right. Tribe was based on three winning instincts: That social networks should use real names (Facebook), that people wanted community forums powered by reputation (Reddit), and that there should be a better way to find jobs and showcase professional talents (LinkedIn). But his idea to pursue all of these instincts with a single product was wrong.
For Mark, the key to resolving this paradox was to realize that he could be ruthless about killing bad ideas without killing a winning instinct. With Zynga, he started with the winning instinct that adults wanted to play games, and ruthlessly tested and discarded ideas when the data indicated they weren’t working.
In this episode, you’ll also hear what lessons entrepreneurs can learn from fire-eaters and stand-up comedians, and about Thomas Edison’s failed attempt to commercialize the phonograph with screeching terror dolls for children.