When I was speaking with some of my coworkers recently about my plans to quit my job to join in creating another startup, I could tell that at least a few of them thought I was nuts. No, they weren’t so impolite as to actually say it out loud, but there’s nothing like a good eye-roll to punctuate some obvious non-verbal communication. So that begs the question: are entrepreneurs at least a little bit crazy?
At first glance it’s easy to make up a list of attributes and behaviors that start to swing the crazy arrow toward the high end of the cuckoo scale. Entrepreneurs are risk takers. They are searching for, rather than starting with, answers. They are giving up a paycheck, and soon find themselves responsible for making a payroll.
Entrepreneurship is, in its most basic form, a search for a solution to a problem. It is certainly a risky proposition, an environment that requires a tolerance for some degree of ambiguity and lack of structure, and an admission that customer acceptance is the only real validation that our solution is one that is both viable and feasible.
Of course, on closer analysis much of the risk for an entrepreneurial venture comes when we think we have an amazing solution to a problem, only to later learn that customers could care less about our product, which they see as a poor solution to a problem we had never really fully defined and solved. Continuing to focus on finding new ways to market something no one really wants is certainly the definition of insanity. Expecting different results without a solution based on customer input and feedback is both a frustrating and expensive way to burn through a limited startup budget.
From the work of Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and many others, we know that a customer-centric, “lean” approach requires a startup to establish a dialogue with customers early on in order to gain valuable feedback that can then be incorporated into initial mock-ups and prototypes. But that is only the beginning of a process that will continue in a perpetual feedback loop, as customers guide us toward the business model that matches the right solution to the customer’s identified business problem. Customer feedback may require us to pivot and modify as approach as the real problem is identified. We may find that the price of the solution to the problem is not something customers are willing to pay, rendering our model infeasible.
BUT, what if the iterative process and listening to customers actually does yield a viable and feasible solution? We have accomplished two important goals: we have solved a real problem that will benefit our current and potential customers, and we have created a direct line of communication and have allowed our customers to participate in helping us find the solution. Pretty crazy, huh? Are entrepreneurs crazy? Only the ones who aren’t willing to get out of the building and include customers in the process.