This is my second week being a full time entrepreneur and the most striking feature of the journey so far has been the extreme uncertainty of it all. I would like to share some of the Q&A sessions which have occurred in my head in the past few weeks, and their outcome.
I have been working on the idea for my present product for around four months. The product is in the highly saturated space of Internet communications and social networking. The use of the Internet to facilitate the freer flow of information is a pie that has been sliced a million times, and with a million new attempts made seemingly every week.
So, inevitably, the first thing to do is to answer questions surrounding what needs am I addressing and which people currently feel these needs. But there are so many ways of answering these questions! Do I build a landing page and test the interest in the idea through how many people sign up for a beta? Do I build a prototype and share it? If so, what should go into the prototype? And how to get meaningful feedback from the prototype? Further, how would I even get people to use this prototype?
These are all open ended questions with no right answer. To get some perspective on these questions, I attended a Bootstrappers Breakfast in Mountain View this morning. The breakfast is a forum where local entrepreneurs who are trying to start a company hang out and give each other advice. And I did receive some solid advice. I was told that:
- I only have a philosophy right now, and that the first order is to turn it into a concrete product idea.
- A fundamental choice I should make early on is whether to target the long tail of consumers or a selected niche market.
- The first version should solve one problem, ideally the problem I feel most strongly about.
- Writing and sharing the vision would be a good marketing strategy, as well being hugely beneficial in refining my understanding.
- I should pick one popular existing platform to leverage.
This was all indeed great advice. But each piece of advice led to more questions! It got me a bit unsettled because the number of decisions to be made seemed infinite. It felt like each decision had a 'right' answer, and that a single 'wrong' answer would guarantee 'failure'!
All of this put me on quite an emotional roller coaster. But I think this is to be expected. I think that, as an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with the reality that the chances of failing far outweigh the chances of succeeding. Further, the form of your success is nebulous, but the form of your failure is very clear: you will be out of money and you will have to figure out a way to get paychecks again. It can all be quite scary.
But then, I remind myself that when the Larry and Sergey started Google, they must have had their fair share of doubts about their chances --the story goes that they were soliciting Yahoo! to buy them a year after launch, in 1999! And I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg planned on taking facebook beyond Harvard and his college dorm room. And I wonder if Henry Ford imagined that after he built his car, governments everywhere would build 1000's of miles of roads (for free!) AND a whole ecosystem of gas stations crop up throughout the world to support his creation. The point is things happen which are outside of your control and beyond your imagination. But only once you start! Without starting, you never know what could have been. And that is an encouraging thought for me.
So here is how I have decided to make my start:
- Articulate clearly my values and my experiences which have inspired this project. Get it down on paper, share it with close friends, and get feedback. This outlook is the bedrock of everything and is what will keep me going.
- Turn that philosophy into digestible stories which people can relate to. This is is a low cost way to market the idea and get feedback. It will also show me what communication works, and what does not.
- Also translate that philosophy into a prototype which I can share with people. The questions to be answered as part of this design are: Am I targeting the long tail or a niche? Which platform to leverage? Which single problem should this prototype solve really well?
Hopefully, in three months I will have some stories which do justice to my vision and a product which is a decent expression of that vision. Beyond that, I don't know. But at least this is a fairly concrete list and its existence makes it much easier to go through my days!
If you are also trying to get an idea out of your head and into the world, if you are trying to start something new, I wager that you could relate to a lot of this post. If so, I hope that it helped you to read it, and would love to hear about your experience!
Thanks for reading!