You Will Fail

...but that's okay. Isn't it?

Over the past month I have had the pleasure of hearing many product and idea pitches. This blog post is long overdue and I have mixed feelings about which way to write. So I'm I'm doing both in two parts.

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Pt 1: Avoiding failure is costly

Since when was it not okay to fail? Ok, I know the answer to this question, but now it's your turn. Can you remember when you decided that failure was associated with the end of the world, or your life as you know it? There is a good chance that there is some silly psychology going on and I honestly don't want to explore it. Here's the truth:

Whatever you create for the first time, will fail. 

Oh you heard a story about someone who had an idea, raised some money, became successful and now they are retired at 25? Nice one. They were lucky - someone had to be. Right?

You won't hear the stories about the person who showed up and did the emotional labor of asking strangers what they thought of their idea, until they worked out who was their market and what story resonated with the way they saw the world. You don't hear this story because it's boring to everyday dreamers who are sold on big dreams, scams and not a lot of hard work. Real entrepreneurs don't value these stories, they don't comment on them. They simply smile and get back to work on things that matter.

Real entrepreneurs know as a sure certainty that whatever they create - the product, the experience, the pitch, the website, the video, the interaction.....will ultimately not fit everyone who intersects with it. That's okay with them. It is okay to fail, just do it quick and spend more time on people who are willing to cross the street to see you.

If you accept that whatever you create will not work the way you expected it to, for the people you thought would love it the most, you'll now have two realizations: 

  1. Don't waste your life savings, months of your time and burn every network connection you have to get your first prototype into the market.
  2. Work out the quickest way to fail and do it fast.

What is failure anyway?

  1. You make assumptions.
  2. They are wrong.

Not: you are a failure as a person, as a provider for your family, as an entrepreneur, as a person with great ideas. No, you simply made assumptions that were wrong.

We all make assumptions about other people that are wrong, but we don't nearly beat ourselves up as much about it (as perhaps we should). Don't be so hard on yourself, you don't know everything...and that's a good thing. 

How to fail fast

  1. Work on just enough of an idea that you can pitch the product to (who you think) is a potential buyer. This must be under 1 minute. Try limit your materials unless you really need mockups. Visuals can aide understanding but also just give you a way to hide. Don't hide.
  2. Ask great questions. Every pitch I have heard recently involved me  asking questions (see Pt 2 below). You are doing the validation, you ask the questions.
  3. Revise your pitch and do it again until you find the right product/customer fit. You may need to change some of the details in how the product works or how you price it. Or you may need to re-pitch the same product to a new potential customer in a new market. You'll only work this out if you ask great questions. 
  4. Ask for the money. If they like your idea and are willing to pay for it, ask for the whole amount or a deposit of $10, or $20 etc. If someone won't give you the money, they are simply being nice and don't really think it's a good idea. Think this is silly? How does Kickstarter work?

There are so many ways you can transfer money instantly. You could take someone to your Kickstarter page or your self-starter page hosted on Wordpress. You could ask them to send money through Paypal or many banking apps now allow you to send money on the fly. 

Why won't you ask for money? You're scared. (Read on) 

Pt 2: Arrogance will cost you more

It happens to all of us, we all do it. We fall in love with our product concept and the idea of who we think we will be when our venture is successful. This type of thinking will encourage you to stop yourself from failing and cost you much more time and money than ever expected. This is arrogance.

Arrogance is when you: 

  • Don't understand who you're pitching to.
  • Don't listen to feedback.
  • Defend your idea instead of clarifying your understanding and improving your pitch.
  • Think that the product is more important than the problem it is solving.
  • Mess with probabilities to make your idea sound good (to you). 
  • Have no idea about what assumptions you're making. 
  • Pick technology first, a product design second and then a customer problem last. 
  • Get scared about pitching an idea because someone will steal it.
  • Hide behind legals, business structures, equity agreements, insurances, setting up technology, writing policies and procedures....all because you don't want to pitch your product and get rejected.

If you're still reading this and haven't closed the page, you probably have what it takes to get something off the ground. Those people who closed the page may become successful through manipulation of people and finding information gaps in markets, but they'll never know what it's like to delight customers with an exceptional experience and ship a remarkable product.

My hope is that you will change the world, for some people. You will get rid of bad ideas fast and work on things that matter. Like many entrepreneurs, I have made every mistake bulleted above. As you strip the arrogance away you find someone who is scared of what the world will think of them.

Ironically, stripping away your arrogance turns you into a remarkable entrepreneur. Be that person, the world wants you to be.

Your turn: What are some of your biggest lessons learnt?