When you have the mind of an entrepreneur, ideas excite you more than anything else. They catalyze a burning desire to be creative, expressive, authentic and inspirational. In this sense, the entrepreneur is akin to the artist, entertainer and musician. The primary difference, however, is that the entrepreneur must adapt to his or her audience’s feedback. Only the proven visionaries are exempt from this rule.
I’ve always wanted to deny this fundamental aspect of entrepreneurship. I’ve always presupposed that my ideas were above the feedback threshold and didn’t require input from potential customers. “Besides,” I’d say, “This is something new and people won’t understand the product until they use it.”
Now I understand that this sentiment underscores the fundamental delusion: customers won’t use the product unless they understand what it is. You can’t build something and ask a confused user for insightful feedback. They won’t find the product useful and you’ll both be frustrated.
Entrepreneur or Artist
Labels allow us to define ourselves however we please. But the truth is more illusive. You don’t simply become an entrepreneur by writing code, designing logos and tweeting to the masses. These are skills but they don’t define entrepreneurship. A true entrepreneur understands that creating value is all that matters – everything else is a process.
(To be fair, artists, entertainers and musicians create value too, but the value they create is through individual expression. Their work is not dependent upon critical feedback, nor would anyone say a good artist adapts in order to please others.)
The Lean Startup Movement
The tech-startup boom occurred because everyone wanted to be the next Zuckerberg. My motivation was no different. I thought it’d be easy to create something that everyone would love. Unfortunately, my assumptions were all wrong but at least now I know why: I never tested my assumptions.
Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup is a must-read for anyone who wants to become a successful tech entrepreneur. It has valuable lessons for traditional entrepreneurs but Ries’s background is in the tech industry, so most of his examples deal with tech startups.
The Lean Startup Movement is all about user-centric product design and development. In other words, it’s about gaining the initial feedback required to create a product that customers would actually want to use. I listened to the audible version of the book and highly recommend it to anyone who has trouble finding time to read.
Feedback Can Be Painful
I think we all intuitively understand why we’re hesitant to ask other people’s opinions: they may not like our ideas. We don’t want them to cast a shadow of doubt on something we consider a good idea, so we remain ignorant instead. This ignorance doesn’t stay dormant – it returns in the form of a poor product.
As an introvert, it took me a while to feel comfortable talking about my ideas. Eventually I decided that if I was going to spend a lot of time building something, I might as well see if anyone else was excited about it. If my intended users weren’t excited about it then it was simply time to pursue other ideas.
The absolute most important question is this: would you, in all honesty, use your product? It’s really, really important that you be honest when answering this question. If you begin to doubt your own excitement about the project, you’re likely not passionate enough about it to see it through.
Don’t build first, go talk with people! You’ll learn a lot.
Jerad Maplethorpe is an avid traveler, aspiring entrepreneur, lifestyle-design enthusiast and full-stack web developer. He’s also the creator of NonProfitIO, a project devoted to building connections between nonprofits and high-tech volunteers. Learn more about the project.
Image credit: CC by Ian Sane