Why I Suck at Startups

I never wanted to be a part of another startup project ever again; and yet, here I am. Everyone hears repeatedly that the startup journey is harder than most things anyone will ever do professionally; however, most entrepreneurs never listen. For me it was my ego that made me ignore all the signs: I saw lightning in a bottle everywhere I went; flaws in the world that I was going to erase; and dare I say, that I even thought in some cases that my ideas were unique. If you aren’t laughing by now you should be because wanting to change the world sounds great, but it really doesn’t mean anything. Everyone has ideas, everyone sees things differently, and everyone wants to change the world, but hoping and wishful thinking don’t drive results.

I worked on two other projects before this one: one a social media website that was supposed to revolutionize the way people searched for nightlife activities in major cities across the globe; and the other, a mobile app that would help college students discover the best social events around them in real-time.  Both projects were great ideas, but then again, ideas were all they really were. If you asked me if they were great projects or great business ideas then I would have to tell you no. I’ve realized, slowly over time, that ideas are not automatically startup businesses, ideas are only ideas until they can be validated.

I put a lot of work into my previous ideas, and both ideas imploded before anything could get off the ground. I used to think that these ideas didn’t work because there was something wrong with me, and recently I realized that I was right. I had a problem with assumptions: I assumed that I knew best when it came to my potential customers. I assumed that people wanted exactly what I decided to offer them: whether that was a social media website that was supposed to revolutionize the way people searched for nightlife activities in major cities; or a mobile app that would help college students discover the best social events around them in real-time. Maybe people wanted those things, but not asking your potential customers what they want is even worse than being wrong. I never thought about the possibility of being wrong because I only thought about what little time I had to put something into the marketplace before someone else joined me.

I didn’t serve my potential customers, instead, I served myself and I paid the price. Failure made me bitter, and after a while, I thought that I wasn’t a startup kind of guy. Startup people can execute, and I clearly hadn’t done that, but what I didn’t realize was that startup people don’t assume that their project is exactly what customers want, and this is what I’m finally learning. You must be an active listener if you truly want to change the world. Problems are everywhere, and sometimes they’re easy to identify, but it’s the stories behind problems that are the most important for an entrepreneur to understand. Understanding customer journeys put you ahead, not your ideas. I’m still learning how to listen, but this time I’m at least putting my customers first and not my ego.

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