It is fairly easy to meet founders who think they know it all. Founders who are so sure of their own success and the trajectory that they are on that they almost excude overconfidence.
But are they overconfident, or are they just pretending out of fear of losing face, credibility, mojo or something else? Probably. Because just under the surface of any founder is the fear of failure. Of making the wrong decision. Of missing the boat completely.
It is natural. And actually fear can be transformed into a strenght, if you use it as an opportunity to have a learning mindset. Studys show that one of the traits of successful founders is the ability to learn. And in order to learn, you need to start by acknowledging that you don’t know it all. So get comfortable with that – and embark on your ongoing learning process.
Whenever you take on an opportunity, make sure you have understood the mandate and you have it in a way that you can follow through on the ambition, you are trying to bring to life.
Why? Because it is dead easy to be flattered, take in all the kind words and accept a role, where everybody but yourself is in control. And when that happens, you will not be leading anything. You will be a spectator. A spectator running the risk of getting blamed, when the decisions of others come back to bite the project.
Be especially aware of this is you are considering an opportunity in a corporate environment. Corporate cultures are – for better and for worse – most often well established, and the chances of it changing for the sake of your opportunity is zero. Non-existing. Unless, that is, you make sure to get a very strong and powerful mandate from the ‘go’.
Yesterday at inQvation we were honoured to get a visit from the brand new Incubation Studio team from LEGO Ventures. They are just setting out with some really cool people onboard, and they had asked if they could come and learn from our experiences, and of course they could. We are always willing to share and have a very transparent approach to the things we do, and the things we learn.
One of the things that came up during our discussion is how much work-in-progress it is to build a Studio-setup that works. Now, this doesn’t mean that we are doing random stuff every single day – we are most definitely not. But what it does mean is that nobody – not even the ones who claim they do – has a proven, repetitive model for how they make it work in all its fine print.
In fact, I don’t think you can create a model that works the same way every single time down to the tiniest detail. What you can do, however, is to create and fine tune an approach ‘above the water line’ so to speak, where you can communicate and replicate in broad terms, how your funnel for projects look. To that end to the naked eye it will look like a standardized approach, yet ‘below the water line’ it will be different tools, methods and learnings from time to time. I don’t think it can be in any other way.
One of the easiest things is to get carried away by your great idea. For many aspiring entrepreneurs it just happens straight out of the gate. But even for those who have learned and accepted that getting to product/market-fit is an experimental process, it can be tricky to stay the course and be true to your process.
Staying nimble when you need to is a virtue. With an emphasis on ‘when you need to’. Because of course there comes a time – hopefully – where it makes a ton of sense to just do whatever it takes to hit it out of the park. Chances are though that that won’t be the first thing you need to do. And that doing it anyway may send you seriously off course – sometimes without the ability to recover.
A good way of staying the course could be to have a simple process drawn down. David J. Bland has an excellent one in a video here, where he connects Pirate Metrics for growth with experimentation and how to allocate time and budget. That is exactly what you need to make sure that you stay focused on the right things at the right points of time and that you stay the course and stay nimble, when you need to.
This week I joined the Y Combinator Startup School programme. The first lessons have been completed, and yesterday evening we had our first group session with other early stage startup-projects. And what fun it was.
It is a truly great programme that the Startup School has created. The curriculum is pretty ambitious and advanced, and the speakers give you confidence that they know what this is about, and that if you follow their lead and let yourself inspire, you will move towards a really good place (if you put in the necessary work yourself, of course).
The group session is also great. Because it gives you two things that you shouldn’t underestimate: It gives you somebody to be accountable too; i.e. what have you done the last week, what are you doing the next, how are your metrics etc. And it gives you the opportunity to practice pitching your story and see if people get it and choose your product to want to join, if they had to pick just one.
From that angle, first session went really well; all the others chose the project, I am participating with. So naturally, I am quite pumped.
Eventhough I am a big proponent of starting small and experimenting your way forward when building a startup or a new product or service for that matter, there is one thing that always needs to be in place: A vision.
It is so easy to get an idea and just start executing small scale. It is harder to succeed in closing the first sale, but it becomes super tricky if that first sale is not supported by a vision of where it is you want to take your new company long term.
With a vision in place, you will know whether your first sale sets you off in the right direction and gives you something to build on. With a vision in place, your chances of making that first sale happen based on criteria and terms that supports your overall goal increases. Without a vision you risk tumbling in the dark. And – more importantly – without a vision you risk building a business that will never really be able to take off but will just (best case) hum along.
Even the best and brightest ideas should start small on the implementation side. Just out of respect for the fact that you could have it terribly wrong. Especially if your opportunity is huge, you need to be mindful that you don’t run the risk of creating a big mess by overreaching from the ‘go’.
Naturally, if you are developing a brand new and hugely innovative service or product, the world has never seen before and thus not know it needs, you will think differently about it. My point is just that those invention cases are the outliers. Most of the time you will be trying to improve on something already out there.
Moving in smaller steps doesn’t kill your opportunity. Because of course you have a flexible roadmap that will adapt as you move along and learn more. And because you learn and show respect you will gain trust of those you are trying to serve. And that trust will serve you well when getting to the point where you start reaping all the good stuff you have sowed.
The more I work with recruiting matters, the more I come to realize the amount of effort and work you need to put in in order to get the best candidates possible. It doesn’t matter whether it is for a job opening or for participation in a case competition – it is all the same.
Advertising near and far will get you something. But it is my experience that there is a high noise-to-signal ratio in that way, and that you can quickly spend a lot of time and effort for very little result.
What seems to work better though is recruiting through precision. Basically getting someone to vouch for you and your serious interests. Going that way unlocks interesting candidates who are not really out there looking but may be interested in a conversation. And it has the potential of unearthing all sorts of different interesting profiles that might be an unconventional fit for something but nevertheless a potential fit given the initial screening. It really seems like the way to go.
It is no secret that I have found falling in love with Slack very challenging. Perhaps it is my Microsoft-past with Outlook and (yes) Clippy (and yes, there is a full documentary on YouTube about that one) that haunts me, but I have found the channel setup and the various direct messages threads challenging.
Not any more. I am now firmly in the Slack boat. Why? Because it is just so much easier, when you are working with different teams on different projects to keep up to date and keep the momentum, than it is through email.
It literally only takes a couple of seconds to ask a question on Slack and move on. It boosts the productivity and moves things along even if you have a limited number of hands. Just set up a workspace for each team and integrate them all in the Slack-app, and you’re good. Now, the next challenge is for it not to become too easy and just overwhelm the various workspaces and channels with pointless chit chat.
When you are doing customer interviews, it can be super hard to both ask the right questions, make appropriate notes and be present in the moment to actually hear and understand what people are truly saying.
I have created a small workaround for this. I have started to use Typeform as my notepad for customer interviews. I will build my questionaire beforehand making sure not to ask questions that put words in the mouth of people, and I will quite extensively use scaled answers.
When I am in the interview, I bring my iPad, and I will use the Typeform questionaire as a guide. The options I have chosen will allow me to pin down most answers and get a sense of their importance, and the few fields for extra comments will be easy to fill out either during the interview or immediately afterwards. In that way I get to ask the right questions, capture the answers AND stay present in the conversation. What is not to like?