Practical advices are valuable. Practical insights are invaluable. Advices show the direction, insights uncover principles. Here’s what I learned about advice and principles for starting startups.
Building a startup is a lot of fun and work. And you should ask for advice, whenever you can. The advantage of advice is that it shows directions: where to look for product-market-fit, whom to speak to when raising funds, where you could present your product, etc. And as a rule of thumb, experienced professionals and entrepreneurs are very generous with giving advice and sharing their experience.
The problem starts when you start getting too much advice from different sources. While all of the information may seem to be credible and valuable, how do you decide which direction to go?
Advice overload can quickly lead to indecisiveness and inability to execute. The result is something people call luck. Since I don’t want to rely on luck and I actually enjoy work, I decided to analyze all the advice and available knowledge, trying to come up with an optimal blueprint to build a startup. I found many similarities between successful companies: leadership, team, investment, strategy; but there are also plenty of contradictions. I came up with two main principles for building a startup.
Both principles are fundamentally different from each other, but both start with you. Either approach is fun, generates value and creates a solution to solve some kind of problem. Neither is better than another, right or wrong; the difference is purely circumstantial.
That is why you should consider both principles I am going to write about as an exercise to assess the motivation, why you are building or joining your startup. The primary rationale behind this exercise is that the principles determine the architecture of the startup.
Number One – I call it Startup Assembling. Here we have a clear purpose and clear picture of the future. The problem you want to solve identified and the addressed opportunity is quantifiable. Here the main characteristic is clarity. The good thing about this approach is that because you have a clear view of your value-adding activities, the startup journey can be reverse engineered. By identifying the essential parts of the big picture, you can engineer the process of startup building step by step. That is why the vital resources here are skill and experience.
Number Two – The other approach I call Startup Envisioning. The envisioned destination is only blurry, BUT the direction is clear. The path is guided by (personal) values, by principles, by the necessity to make an impact in a particular market. Here we have a lot of experimentation. The outcomes of the experiments cannot be anticipated, and the results cannot be engineered. It’s the results and learnings that form one step at a time that allow the startup to evolve. It is probably the entrepreneurial journey with the highest uncertainty. And the critical resource here is passion. And passion cannot be reserve engineered; it’s what I believe.
I know both principles are meta and this is my attempt to put it in words. Take it as an exercise to explore why you are on your startup journey and how you are going to approach it.
Go through the features of the Startup Assembling and Startup Envisioning approaches I have identified so far and reflect which path you are on.
|Clear picture of future value||Blurry, but explicit direction|
|Quantifiable opportunity||Creation of the opportunity|
|Components to be assembled||Build components one after the other|
|Initial trust (“makes sense”)||Initial disbelief|