Making bit bets

When I read about advice for startups, I am often struck by the sheer banality of a lot of them; how easy they make it seem to become a successful entrepreneur.

Maybe it is (somewhat, see below) easy. I guess it depends on your ambition;

If it is to use a tried and tested formula to do something others have done before but just with a slight twist and present it in the “Lions Den” in the hope of celebrity investment maybe it is somewhat ‘easy’?

It is certainly quite well inside your own span of control and the effort you put in will go a long way (with some luck added for effect of course). It’s is very much about the quantity you put in – the number of hours etc.

You can do that in limited time and with very limited investment apart from your own hard work. And if it doesn’t work out, chances are you will not have bet the entire farm, and you can always try again.

But what if you instead want to make a really big bet?

What if you want to try to do something, no-one has done before?

What if you want to serve a new audience that has so far been not only underserved but downright neglected?

What if your future product is novel, still in the R&D labs and a lot can still go wrong?

What if, as a consequence of the above, your product is some distance out in the future?

And what if on top of all of the above there is no truly authoritative way you can test whether what you’re looking to do will ultimately be successful?

Making a big bet is daunting in an entirely different way.

Yes, the rewards can be huge. In more ways than one.

If you succeed.

But there are still countless ways you can fail.

It may look intriguing in a Powerpoint, but it’s an entirely different matter when the decision to follow through and make the bet has been made.

Then the real work begins. Then you’re on the hook.

But you will be on the hook for something bold and deeply worthwhile.

Not just 5 minutes of fame.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Grand ideas do matter

There seems to be a general misconception around the notion of ideas;

Since everybody can have them, what becomes important is whether you do something about them and – more importantly – how you do something about them.

Let me try to explain while I think this is inaccurate in a startup context:

Even if everybody can have an idea, and the important part is putting some work into making it happen, all ideas are not equal.

Ideas suffer from the same fatal flaw as the idea about agile work methods;

As long as you work in increments, it doesn’t matter what you work on, because you can always toss it quickly if it goes nowhere.

While that particular argument makes logic sense, in reality it becomes a license to not think too much about what you do and why, and I think that is a totally flawed approach.

The same goes for ideas; if the idea doesn’t matter, because you can always get a new one, you don’t make an effort into getting the original idea and the result risk becoming…meeh.

What you should do instead is work on the idea itself. Challenge your idea, make it sharper and ask some tough questions of it.

Make every effort you can to ensure that when you decide to put some real work into figuring out whether it’s desirable, feasible and viable, it is actually something really worth doing.

For this you have all the tools available for testing your assumptions and hypothesis. And instead of falling into the trap of thinking that those are the important tools and the original idea matter less, use it to spur your great idea on and tell yourself that no idea, you can come up with, is so grand and/or complex that there aren’t immediate ways to test it properly.

Be ambitious, for God’s sake, rather than lazy. That’s all I am saying.

And now go and look at those ideas of your again, challenge them and go as big as you can when you start testing them.

That’s how stars are born!

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

What’s in a co-founder?

Not so long ago I met for the second time with a potential co-founder for our MedTech startup. It was a really good and interesting meeting, and the conversation was really good.

One of the things we talked about was what it means to be a co-founder of a startup.

“What does being a co-founder mean to you?”, he asked me. So of course I had to give him my best shot with an answer.

Here goes:

There are very big differences between being a co-founder and being a key employee in my book. And while in the following it may seem so, I wish no disrespect to key employees at all, and their contributions should be deeply valued. They’re just not co-founders.

Back to how I see a co-founder compared to a key employee:

While key employees may be some of the first to head for the lifeboats when your startup ship takes in water and set off for the safety of dry land, a co-founder goes down the ladder to the very bottom of the hull to man the pumps and start pumping away.

In the same way when the shit hits the fan, and the house is on fire, a key employee may try to call for the fire brigade. The co-founder grabs the nearest fire extinguisher, heads into the flames and starts putting the fire out.

You get my drift.

While the key employee may get excited about the professional challenge for a period of time, the co-founder falls in love with the problem and pictures herself digging in until the problem is either solved (or at the very least seeing good traction) or the startup has run out of steam and is beyond any salvation.

While the key employee may choose to focus more on his job at hand and personal goals and KPIs, the co-founder is always ready to step in and help the team, where the need arises.

And so on.

The biggest overall difference between a co-founder and a key employee is a mental one. It’s about WANTING it and being willing do back up that desire by running the extra miles needed for the team and startup to succeed.

Often, when you meet people, you can tell whether they are co-founder material or not.

Some are naturals. Some may grow into it over time. Some will never get there.

Nothing wrong with that. Just be able to spot the difference.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Go challenge success

Often when we think about which new projects to pursue, we have a tendency to stay away from the ones, where there are already some really dominant players. Because we have a feeling that we will ultimately come up short.

But is that always the case?

What happens when someone you know from a successful company tells you that pursuing your idea or project within his space of operation is a futile endeavour? Should you just roll over and die without even trying?

Or should you – on the contrary – feel validated in your perception that you could really be on to something?

Because at the end of the day why does your friend with insights want you to stop?

Yes, it could be because the idea is really stupid, and of course you should always do your own due diligence on it.

But it could also be because he’s nervous that you could be onto something that is going to potentially upset the status quo and come back to haunt him and his company.

After all – as Mike Shapulski puts it here – the best project is the one that threatens success.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)