Lessons From A Failed Founder #7: May The Fourths Be With You

Do you rely on gut feeling when taking decisions? How data can help emotion-driven entrepreneurs make the right choices.

Failed Founder
May 24, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

“I am not going to say it again: It just doesn’t feel right!” My co-founder, a highly analytical person with two degrees in engineering, looked exhausted. We had been going in circles for more than an hour now, and the fact that we had absolutely nothing to show for but wasted time was draining the life out of him.

Looking back, I realise I simply wanted to be right. Logic be damned — I wanted things to go my way. And, if I’m being really honest here, I wasn’t even handling in our startup’s best interests. My wonderful co-founder always was. Unburdened by ego or grandeur, he would simply go through the numbers before making his next move. So logical.

I admired, despised and envied him in equal measure.

“How can you be so cool-headed?!” I frequently asked him, although I never seemed to mean it as a compliment. He would explain to me, once again, that every little thing in life can be interpreted in numbers. In theories founded by math, physics and biology. Science wasn’t simply a field of interest to my co-founder: It helped him make sense of the world.

We locked horns many times a week: The rational founder vs the emotional one. Facts vs feelings. Science vs senses. We both realised, and accepted, that our views of the world could never be merged into that sweet spot of 50% gut, 50% logic. But: My co-founder and I did learn to appreciate our wildly different ways to tackle challenges.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

Over time, we learnt that business isn’t always a numbers game. There are things that can’t be analysed to death, decisions where metrics play no role. Sometimes, you need to go with your gut. People are a great example: If it doesn’t feel right, don’t hire that person. You’ll be doing them a favour. The same applies to picking your next investor.

Marketing, Sales and, to some extent, Support are driven by emotion. The ability to empathise with people and their needs is vital to securing that much-coveted market fit. In fact, I still believe that Marketing and Sales aren’t professions one can study for: You’re either a people person, or you’re not. Pick your tagline, get out there and keep pivoting until it sticks.

Having said that, my co-founder taught me that we know absolutely nothing until we put it to test. Whereas I was stubborn as an ox, believing that I held the keys to the marketing kingdom, my friend would simply shrug and say “Let’s A/B test it.” That wisdom has become my favourite mantra: We know nothing, the market is always right, let’s put it to test.

Initially, I refused to even entertain the notion of testing anything. Why, I had a strong feeling about my approach. Testing is a waste of time. Besides, I’m right! Oh, that ego… However, watching my co-founder go mad with disbelief at anyone relying so much on his mere feelings, I gave in to his request: We would put a campaign to test.

^ My co-founder would actually get this… Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash

That’s when the magic started. Version A yielded a whopping 33% more in sign-ups, blowing Version B (my initial approach) out of the water. Soon, I applied the methodology to anything that could be mirrored in a slightly different version. Can you imagine what fun it was to discuss the results with my highly-analytical friend?

This fresh wind of metrics gave our relationship a much-needed boost, which helped my co-founder open up to the idea that not everything can, or should, be measured ad infinitum. And while I kept raving about percentages and small increments, my fellow entrepreneur became more aware of the emotional impact his decisions could have.

Our discussions became more to the point: We cut down the average debate to less than ten minutes, always concluding our argument with something actionable both parties were OK with. Of all the lessons learnt during my tenure as an entrepreneur, I consider appreciating facts over feelings as one of the best things my co-founder, my mentor, has taught me.

For those of you struggling to take their business (and personal!) decisions based on numbers, here are some arguments to help you see clearly:

  1. Numbers. Never. Lie.
    While reports and forecasts are dependent on the input, clean calculations are free of bias and prejudice. Consider math your honest advisor.
  2. Just the facts, please
    When you’re relying on digits, you take out the emotions. Like a cool-headed scientist, you get to base your opinions on provable facts.
  3. It doesn’t get more efficient
    Analytics will tell you where to go, how to get there and when to start your engines. You’ll find support and guidance in the safety of spreadsheets.

Just because you learn to rely on numbers, doesn’t mean you have to turn into a robot. Be your quirky self, use understandable language, and remember you are always interacting with human beings. But when it comes to taking a decision, you should always support your assertion with facts and figures: It’s the only way to keep things moving!

Numbers act like the honest advisor that will never betray you.

Lessons From A Failed Founder is a series of blog posts by a thirty-something entrepreneur who made all the mistakes in the big startup playbook, and then some. My posts are no pearls of wisdom: Consider them the cautionary tales of a young founder who wants you to avoid making the same mistakes.

Feel free to reach out to me at failedfounder{AT}gmail.com

failedfounder

Lessons From A Failed Founder is a series of blog posts by…

failedfounder

Lessons From A Failed Founder is a series of blog posts by a thirty-something entrepreneur who made all the mistakes in the big startup playbook, and then some.

Failed Founder

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Lessons From A Failed Founder is a series of blog posts by a thirty-something entrepreneur who made all the mistakes in the big startup playbook, and then some.

failedfounder

Lessons From A Failed Founder is a series of blog posts by a thirty-something entrepreneur who made all the mistakes in the big startup playbook, and then some.