A common metaphor that’s often used to describe starting your own company is that of building an airplane and learning to fly it while its falling from the sky. The downside risk of starting a company from nothing stacks all odds against you, requiring nimble intelligence, fearless determination, and the vision to see something where others don’t. Its a gamble with passion prerequisite and without almost blind determination you’re not acing the AP.
The words you hear most often associated with this process are: innovate, ideate, pivot, brainstorm, develop, productize, and pivot again. All fantastic and all the active verbs required for taking something you thought up and crafting it into a product, a business, a company.
So what’s the problem?
What I’ve seen forgotten in the magic of starting something is that window is small. In fact, the many windows that open for those rare moments when your idea just might hit are tiny. The money you have either from yourself or outside investors is always running out. There’s a countdown clock that monitors your start-up’s survival and its measured not by the hour and minute hands but by the diminishing digits in your bank account. Investors are going to tighten their belts during a down cycle and the ability to gain traction particularly from paying customers or even dedicated users is difficult when ‘everyone’s down on tech’. That’s not the case today, in fact we have irrational exuberance in our industry, which is fantastic as long as that doesn’t translate to a perception of time never running out. The period that you can keep a team, meaning anyone more than yourself, dedicated to an idea is often transient - people butt heads, get dissatisfied, distracted, or their lives’ move in new directions. You can’t stop this but only hope to maintain the talented individuals who take the leap alongside you as long as you can.
Decision-making around a new company is a thoughtful, creative and exhausting series of steps towards producing something meaningful. But it doesn’t need to take forever, in fact it shouldn’t. My friend Andy often talks to me about going with your gut. This is something I’ve taken to heart in my own decision-making and I believe it holds true for entrepreneurship generally. The important thing to note is that your gut doesn’t take a long time to develop: gut instinct hits immediately. You know deep in your core when you feel strongly about something. Act on it. Develop from it. From cultural progress as documented in Galdwell’s Blink or back to the start-up with McConnell’s Rapid Development, these thoughts happen very quickly, unpredictably. Do they require unfiltered, unorganized discussion to develop and ideate? No doubt, Steve Johnson tells us that with more clarity than anyone. But if inspiration and concept are unpredictable then all we can do is take those moments and conversations that move us and act. Act with a sense of urgency that tells everyone else that if I don’t do this now, we’ll all be worse off.
The point is that day and night and night and day focus and urgency must be the mark of the entrepreneur. That airplane in the metaphor above is falling, dont forget it. If your idea is going to change the world, then make it change the world, now.