One of the things I struggle tracing with as an artist is a constant inferiority complex. Although I am a pretty good illustrator, I feel like I am a complete novice whenever I spend time on art sites and see the amazing work done by others. I have spent 20 years learning and perfecting my technique, but other artists make me feel like I have just gotten started. How did they find an easy button while I still struggle?
If you are a founder of a company, you understand that feeling well. You see your friends and colleagues raise large rounds of funding or get lucrative acquisition offers, and you are still struggling to get those first few meetings. Where is the easy button they found?
Often when you feel this way, you are making some bad assumptions. For example, when I first see a beautiful illustration of a person’s face I always assume that the artist draws the same way I do–from memory or imagination. In reality, many artists trace photos. In fact, there is evidence that even the great Renaissance painters were tracing their subjects with the use of mirrors. Tracing is infinitely easier than drawing free hand, and the result is always significantly better.
However, by assuming they were approaching the problem a certain way I assumed they were simply better than me. In reality, they just found another approach to the problem which is easier and has much better results!
Some artists consider tracing to be cheating, but in reality no one cares. No one looks at a given piece of art and says, “Well, they didn’t do this the hard way”. The same is true for your company! Your goal is to build a successful business, not to build a business the hardest way possible.
What are some short cuts you can take as a founder?
Sell to your friends. Every enterprise software company’s first 10 customers are friends of the founder. In fact, many of those customers might buy the product only because they are friends! That is perfectly fine as long as you quickly move on to non-friend customers, since all they gave you was a head start.
Leverage existing networks. Every Y Combinator enterprise software company launches with 50+ customers – how do they do it? Most of them are other YC companies who want to help out a fellow founder. You can do this as well, by plugging into the network of your investors and advisors.
Hire your old team. Many experienced founders initially hire people from the teams at their prior job. Considering how hard it is to hire in the technology market, having the advantage of a trusted relationship and existing work style is a great way to build your initial team. It is both less risky and easier to close someone who knows you already.
These shortcuts will not build your business for you, but they do give you a head start in a time when you desperately need the help.
The next time you feel like things are really hard, perhaps it is worth rethinking your approach to try and find a shortcut. Or maybe it is just really hard.