My wife dragged me to a cocktail party last night tied to my daughter’s school and I met “that guy.” That guy (or gal) is someone who hears you have a new startup and wants to play venture capitalist. Not an interested, supportive pretend-VC, but a judgmental, “I’m smarter than you and let me show you how” pretend-VC. Over the years, I’ve met plenty of “that guys” at social events, but thankfully they remain a small percentage of the population.
The actual question — on my customer growth strategy, I believe — was innocuous in words but not in delivery. At this point, my brain presented me with two responses. One choice had me blazing his puny i-banker brain with brilliant marketing and distribution tactics that quite *obviously* will make my startup the next hot tamale. The other answer was the honest and straightforward one: being only weeks into this startup, I do not know yet. I have many, many tactics I need try and see what sticks. My focus right now is on building a solid foundation of product-market fit.
Not surprisingly, I chose the latter, but it got me thinking about entrepreneur psychology.
- You need to be convinced of many things including the strength of your concept and your ability to pull it off better than anyone;
- You need to be resilient and stubborn and self-sufficient;
- You need to be able to convince others of your vision and sell, sell, sell;
- At the same time, you cannot bullshit yourself about anything.
Years ago, I worked for a founder with an incredible Steve Jobs-like reality distortion field. He raised a bundle of money by convincing two of the top Silicon Valley VC firms that his vision was amazing and his product was solid. Shortly after the investment they realized that 50% was hot air, and chucked the founder from the CEO spot (of course, I only found out about this after accepting the job offer). The founder completely believed his own hype, which made him convincing, but also made him a terrible, terrible operator.
Bullshit doesn’t build companies (or relationships). It can get you funded and win a customer or two, but it’s not a solid foundation.
One of the things I like most about the whole lean-startup meme going around is that it stresses the notion that you have to aggressively challenge your own hypotheses. You go out of your way to let potential customers tell you things you don’t want to hear. You poke hard, because you want to fail early and find a better path while it is still possible.
As for “that guy” at a party, as an entrepreneur, you don’t need to feel like you have all the answers early on. The important thing is busting your ass to get them.