I get it. Whether it's a first leap into entrepreneurship or a new idea for a product, you want to be sure before you commit. Alas, the world is complex, you can't see the finish line. You can't simulate all the steps mentally and predict the outcome.
So, how do you determine whether or not you should start? Whether it's worthwhile to try it out? To invest your time or money in it?
This doubt, usually, centers around three distinct questions:
- Is the idea any good?
- Am I passionate enough about it?
- Do I have what it takes?
1. Is the idea any good?
Or more precise: Does it have a good chance of succeeding?
First off, clearly it's important to figure out what success means to you? Does it need to make you rich? Or do you want to be able to make a living off it? Or as cool as the other kids? Or does it simply need to help someone in need? Get clear on what the goal is that this idea needs to accomplish. "What's it for?"
What do you know for sure about your idea and how it will work? And what are the doubts you have that make you hesitate to pursue it?
Get really explicit about this. What don't you know that you need to know? How can you test that? What do you fear will happen? What can you do to prevent that from happening? (Tim Ferriss' Fear-setting TED talk explains this well)
I'd argue that the most important thing to get clear on is: What is it that helps the people you're trying to help most and how can you deliver that?
By testing your assumptions with the people you're trying to help, you get to know these people and find out what they really desire. This is not something you figure out in isolation. And hearsay is a terrible guide. Partly because by needing it you're dependent on it. But mainly because only a fraction of it is true and you don't know which part.
You need to be in contact with 'your' people. Sometimes you can directly ask. Sometimes they don't know. Usually, you must try different things and see what works.
So, what's the smallest way you can get real-life information/feedback? And can you commit to trying this out?
Want to start a university? Forget about the building, 'professors' or curriculum for a moment. Can you create a space for learning first and get people excited about it? Like we did with De Universiteit.
Once you get clearer on what the core of the idea needs to be, once you know there is something there, you can fill in all the other elements. Things like its business model, product packaging, and logistics.
2. Do I like the idea enough?
... to also continue when it gets hard. You know it's not always going to be fun and easy. Every project worthwhile has a phase where it gets hard and you want to quit. If it didn't have it, you'd have done it already.
Seth Godin calls this The Dip. It's inevitable. In the beginning, your project is still new, fun and everyone is cheering you on. But it gets hard, months or years into the project, when the newness has rubbed off, friends have lost interest and you run out of time, resources and resourcefulness.
The question is, when that moment comes, how will you deal with it?
First of all, see it coming. Be ready for it. A marathon runner isn't surprised when at kilometer 33 he gets tired. Of course, he gets tired!
Secondly, embrace the challenge. Be glad it's there. If there wasn't a challenge, it wouldn't be worth it. You choose the project precisely because there is a dip. So, does this project have a dip that you weirdly enjoy? That you are uniquely equipped in tackling?
And third, you don't have to fight through every dip. The lesson is that you want to stop in time. And not when you've invested a ton of time into it (at kilometer 33 of the marathon). Stop when it's still cheap (at kilometer 7).
So, as an experiment, you start 10 little projects. You don't just think of 10 projects, but you really start them. By doing that you gain real information. And, after experiencing each of them, judge them for their fit, interestingness and how much it fulfills you. Plus, think of the dip that's coming. Is it a dip or an impossibility?
Then, fully commit to the one you want to see through. Ánd quit the other 9 so you can really focus on it. From that moment there is no turning back.
3. Do I have what it takes?
Then there is the most personal question: Am I good enough to take it off the ground?
You fear that the project requires skills, a personality, or experience that you don't have. Or, perhaps you even fear that certain personality traits you possess are inconducive with entrepreneurship.
First of all, please let's not confuse "good enough" with self-worth. It's simply about the skills and qualities you possess.
Secondly, couldn't the seemingly negative traits also be strengths? Are you indecisive? Well, that can mean that you don't act over-impulsively and ship well-researched and nuanced products. The world needs more of those.
It's the same for perfectionism. That means you will only ship quality products. And, boy, is there more than enough crap out there!
The list goes on.
You're judging yourself compared to the archetypes of "The Entrepreneur". "What does that remind me of?". And, perhaps, those archetypes have become clichés for a reason.
But, please realize that there are nearly no real rules in how you need to act out your entrepreneurship. Rather, there are best practices and the "market" is more responsive to certain styles. But, for every rule, there are a million unique and special counter-examples that could be you.
Especially when you aspire to be a freelancer. It that case, the quirkier the better. Because you don't need a lot of clients, you just need to be the very best for a very small market.
So the puzzle is, how to bring it about in a way that suits your strengths? To run downhill, so to say.
Secondly, before you start, you don't really know what the project is going to entail and what it's going to become. So, you don't even know yet what it is you're going to need to be able to do. Seems a bit early to make the distinction that you don't have it, right?
Remember, for most famous entrepreneurs, the company they're now known for isn't the first one they started. They did smaller side projects before that one. Some went somewhere, some didn't. One of my favorite examples is that Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia made (and still makes) Critbuns: Cushions to sit on during long critique sessions in college. It was hard to get off the ground, but not impossible.
After the Critbuns, he'd gotten the gumption that he could take on new even more challenging projects. At the new edge of his learning zone.
By getting those reps, entrepreneurs built up more resources and experiences. That allows them to take on bigger projects (with bigger dips).
So, the projects you can pick become bigger over time. Every time you learn a little bit more. That means it's ok to start off with small projects. Use the small projects to teach yourself that you can solve the problems that come your way.
Ánd, they still worry about whether or not their new big plan is going to succeed. They felt that way with the small projects. And they feel that way now. They've just learned to be more comfortable in that phase of not yet knowing.
So, it's not a "bad" thing to worry about whether or not it works. All the best worry. They just focus their worry into solving it.
To round up:
Is the idea any good?
Test whether or not it can deliver value to the right people!
Are you passionate enough about it?
It's going to have a dip. What dip is yours to solve? Test and then decide to commit or not.
Do you have what it takes?
Play to your strengths, and develop yourself project after project.
Before you leave
Thanks for reading! I hope this helps you. If so, clapping along or sharing the article really helps others find it too. Both would be much appreciated!
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