I ceased work on ServiceChat – the startup that I have been working on for six months. It might not seem that long to you, but to me it is a very long time of illusions and self discovery.
My learning from why ServiceChat didn’t go where I had ambitions for it to go will continue to emerge over time, but one thing that pops straight out is that I didn’t know my own my mind. Let me explain?
Too many sources of information
We are in an age of startup frenzy. All the cool kids are in startups and it is an exciting time that is all the more exaggerated by the media feeding on the spectacular valuations and fortunes. Politicians rest the recovery from recession on startups and entrepreneurs, kids are encouraged to code from a young age and be the next Zuckerberg and dreamy eyed youth are cluing on to the fact that the barriers to realise their ambitions are lower than at any other time in the history of business – well at least for tech startups anyway.
There is such a rich ecosystem for startups – blogs, books, incubators , accelerators, coaches, advisers, mentors and so much more – maybe too rich. The reality is that almost everyone in this ecosystem is a startup themselves. They are selling something – their idea, their learning and some times their services. So you are their customer – of sorts – and their messages can be interpreted to make you think their way is better or your goals are the wrong ones. With so many opinions competing for your attention, it is easy to get distracted.
I got sucked in. I bought and read the books, I read the blogs and heard expert after expert tell you how to do it – or how not to do it. Everyone means well – absolutely – and there is a wealth of anecdotal sense in what they say. But in a blog or a book, you read what was written whereas the learning you might need is in what was unwritten. In any case, as much as you recognise the symptoms they talk about, they are not talking about your particular condition in its entirety. I still needed to know my own mind.
But there is no recipe for growing a successful startup. There are general ingredients – test your idea, continuously validate and others. The exciting bit is that you get to decide what you are cooking and what the recipe should be.
Fail on your own terms
My trouble was I was seeking my mind in the words of others. That took a huge amount of focus away from what I was supposed to be doing – finding customers and trying to find market/product fit. It was also emotionally wrecking, constantly second guessing myself when yet another blog implied to do the opposite of that the previous book advocated. Was I following the *exact* process or was I doing what the book said? Occasionally my rational mind would chime in and say:
‘Screw them, they don’t have to find next month’s rent, you do – you have to do what you have to do to build this thing!’.
But I would mute it. Failure is hard to accept. But it can be easier to deal with if you understand why you failed and you learn from it. Failing on your own terms is perhaps the best you can have. In my case, one of the reasons I failed was not knowing my own mind.
I’m not blaming anyone or anything – I don’t believe in blame.
I do believe in behaviors being more or less effective towards a goal. My learning here is that focusing on a process or a body of other people’s experiences to build my own startup was not an effective way for me to achieve my goal of a successful and viable startup business. The next time – and there will be a next time – I won’t do the same thing.
I will have my plan and I’ll be comfortable with my plan. I’ll formulate it from my own experiences and instincts. I may run it past advisers or check for obviously stupid aspects of it with books or blogs or other sources of information. I may otherwise revise it but ultimately I will do it because it makes sense in my mind.
I encourage you to completely disregard this post. It was my learning and my experience and it absolutely may not apply to you. Know your mind.