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I started my entrepreneurial journey 8 months ago. Since then, I iterated several times and pivoted drastically twice. If I had to analyse myself, I would quite certainly use the word “bipolar” more than once. I started getting anxious about a lot of things, including what people would think of me, so I stopped blogging (I regret that). Getting sleep was not an easy task anymore, all what I was thinking of was how stupid I was.

On my very last day in San Francisco, I had a chat with an entrepreneur I met in a café. We got to know each other and talked about our ventures. I told him that I felt a lot of pressure and lost self-confidence. He replied instantly:

“Self-confidence is built via strong customer feedback and clarity of thoughts”

This advice was pretty straight-forward and seemed so obvious. So why in a hell was it still so hard for me?

How did I get to the point where I felt insecure about introducing myself? How did I switch from being optimistic to full of negative thoughts? 

I had no clue what I was doing, nor why I was doing it.

After I killed my first project (HuggyList), I run into new ideas without pausing first, without breathing deeply and thinking of what I wanted to achieve. I turned my noble journey into a chase of success and quick fixes. When looking back, I wish I went for another approach.

If I had a time machine, this is the message I would send to the younger me:

Dear Daniel,
Before starting your journey, you need to truly understand the following:

1) An idea needs time

They say “ideas are worthless, it’s all about execution”. This doesn’t mean any idea can be successful. A great execution of a poor idea will increase frustration and the risks of you giving up. A great idea with poor execution will remain an idea, therefore worthless. What you want is an idea with huge potential coupled with an amazing execution. 

So what is an idea with huge potential?

A great idea doesn’t mean a great solution, it means a great problem. Now, you have been wrongly interpreting the definition of “problem” for too long. Your wake-up call will be this talk given by Michael Seibel: (video – minute 13:50 to 15:04). 

What you call “problems” are actually “jobs to be done” and the market size of such a job to be done is defined by the need intensity vs its frequency. In his talk, Michael brings the Uber example and explains that the “problem” is to get from a place A to a place B. This happens every day and people are willing to invest huge amounts for a car to do this job, this shows an intense need. Uber made it more convenient than its competitors, but the market was huge at the first place. Uber acquired a scooter company and now delivers food to your doorstep, they’re main goal was not to fight taxi prices.

2) A “problem” is not one until proven otherwise

Michael also describes the real genius comes from working on the right problem and I fully agree. Therefore, talking to customers before building anything is a must. The only issue is that words can’t be trusted. We all have a decent understanding of our needs but most of the time, we play ourselves. What we want can be very different than what we need. 
This is why you should change the way you talk to users. Too often, you just want people to confirm your assumptions so you’re not really trying to understand. Your mind isn’t genuinely interested in the people you are talking to so the discussions are useless. Stop talking and start listening, for real this time. 

Identifying a problem is so hard to do because most people themselves haven’t noticed yet that they are in pain.

Here’s an example: Before Spotify, you were transforming music videos into MP3 on suspicious websites. The sound quality was bad, your library was limited to available videos, and your activities considered illegal. You didn’t care much because it was easier than walking around with 50 CDs. Imagine you were sent back to those days? That’s right, you would actually feel the pain. 

Therefore, don’t rush the evaluation process. Keep your ears to the streets and pay close attention to gaps in society that seem illogical to you. Take some steps back, understand users’ problems, evaluate your potential impact, and define a concept before “testing” anything… You test too much stuff. 

Finally, do you see yourself working on that “problem” for 3-5 years? If not, don’t even start. 

3) A team is central

Now, this is something you will learn the hard way. When times are difficult and doubts inevitable, it is good to have sparing partners with skin in the game. They will help you fight longer and keep a smile on your face. Therefore, you should engage with possible co-founders early on. At this stage, don’t oversell. Try to spark minds, create dynamics, and chat with people you admire. Don’t chase co-founders selling your big vision, everything will change so fast so don’t limit your interaction to this idea you may have today. Trust me.

In the meantime, you are not alone. Discuss ideas with your friends and contacts. There are tons of great people ready to help with very specific knowledge and experience. This is gold.

4) A vision doesn’t pay rent

Your visions are motivating but too big to start. What if you could help 10 people today instead of 1’000 tomorrow? You would start creating value from day one and build on a proven concept. By generating income immediately, you will get the attention you need to attract great talent and investors. They all need to pay rent or make some return on investment. Make it easier for them to grasp the potential. BTW, you also need to pay rent and you tend to make bad decisions under financial pressure. 

What really counts is the user who is willing to pay for your product/service TODAY.

Therefore, solve a problem that is relevant right now. This should be your only focus. Don’t pay much attention to events, investors, trends, or competition. The market always wins and you should finally understand that. 

Finally, give up launching “the next big thing” 

Those thoughts are wrong in so many ways. Calm down, breath deeply, think through. Forget about all this hype around startups, scaling, unicorns, … Being constantly exposed to hyper-growth success stories will make you think weirdly. It will increase pressure and create a slight arrogance towards traditional businesses that are actually doing better than you might ever do. 

I know you like hanging around startups… It is inspiring in many ways but you are probably all in the same silo of thinking. The chances are high that you are limiting your perspectives and your understanding of the world.

This works for any sorts of communities that think differently. The risks are always that this group, originally very open-minded, becomes so populated that it becomes the only way of thinking. My recommendation: meet more people who have nothing to do with startups, they will give you new insights and some of the best advice. 

Dear younger me, I love your ambition but what is wrong with starting small? Stop chasing visions and focus on what can be done today.