It’s important for entrepreneurs to believe in what they are selling — in essence, to create a field of distortion around themselves that makes it seem like anything is possible with their solution. They just need to make sure they don’t believe what they’re saying to the point of distorting their own view.
I often find myself saying to entrepreneurs “your job is to mix it and serve it, just don’t drink it yourself!” This usually slips out of my mouth when I’m talking to an entrepreneur who is pushing their idea so hard that it seems like they are trying to convince themselves of its brilliance, though in most cases I think they actually believe it, which is what concerns me.
This doesn’t mean it’s bad to serve the Kool-Aid to others (metaphorically speaking, of course). Really, as an entrepreneur that’s a huge part of your job: selling others on your dream. And while it’s absolutely critical that you make a case for your product or service that has people fighting to buy it, you have to make sure you critically assess the reality of your situation.
If you build it, they might not come
I met an extremely intelligent entrepreneur recently who has spent years of his life building a business that he feels is “necessary”. It’s great to create something you think the world needs — it’s critical really. But don’t convince yourself that just because you think the world needs it other people also think that and are willing to pay for it.
In this case, the entrepreneur has poured so much of himself into the startup that he is at risk of being lost personally if it doesn’t work out well. At this point he has spent so much time working on the business idea that he feels like he has thought of everything, even though he doesn’t have any real market validation. When I brought up significant risks to the business, he quickly disregarded them as something they have already thought through.
One of the many challenges of the “if you build it, they will come” mentality is that you spend so much time building up the business before actually testing it in the market that you become closed off to feedback. I’m not saying everything I say should be agreed with — most of it should be refuted, really — but every entrepreneur should be open to talking about the risks associated with their business. All businesses have risks, significant ones, and startups’ risks increase exponentially because they are new to the market.
If you aren’t open to discussing the many risks to your businesses, it probably means you have been sipping at the Kool-Aid and really think that you are somehow so different that the rules of business don’t apply to you.
How to take a “step back” and be more critical
There are many ways you can take a “step back” to more objectively assess whether what you’re building will actually be of value to the market. Of course, the best way is to put it in front of customers to see if they like it. Even better, see if it’s something they are willing to pay for. And don’t just take their word for it, by willing to pay I mean they pull out their wallet (or click a checkout button) and really show they want to buy whatever you are selling. If you don’t test it out with real customers who are paying real money, you don’t really have the feedback you need.
I recommend you spend time critically assessing your business once every two weeks, or even weekly during the validation stage. If you’re having trouble weaning yourself off the Kool-Aid, here are a few things you can think about that might help:
- See your offering from your competitors’ perspectives. How does your offering compare to their’s? What are they telling potential customers makes their products or services better than yours?
- What would a sceptical customer say about your product or service? What would concern them the most and keep them from signing up?
- How about a sceptical investor? What would keep them from investing in your business?
- Another option is to add some rivals to your team, which could mean people you hire or just advisors or investors who have a different perspective on the business than your own.
Entrepreneurship is a messy but exciting thing. It’s a roller coaster ride without a seatbelt. If you’re not prepared to sell the dream you’re not going to make it. And you need to believe in that dream! But you also have to balance that with being ruthlessly critical of your business so you can assess the reality while you bring your dream to life.