399 ideas that didn't work.
The problem for an entrepreneur is that whatever they build in the real world is always so much different than what they dreamed about in their head. There are so many ways for it to go wrong, moments when it’ll seem so much easier to just give up in the middle.
It’s kind of like somebody who decides to take a rowboat across the English Channel. Everybody’s super impressed at the beginning, encouraging you in your weird dream, sending you off onto the water. And if you make it to the other side, you’re celebrated as a hero.
But all that time in the middle… that’s the hard part. That’s when you’re trying to get the water out of the boat, the waves are crashing over you, people on their yachts are going by and saying, “C’mon, just climb aboard, what are you doing? You’re only hurting yourself here.” And you have to hold on, digging deep inside yourself to find the resources to keep going.
The idea of making that kind of trip, the dream of crossing the Channel in a rowboat, the dream of building a startup, is always more romantic and beautiful than actually doing it. That long, hard haul where nobody understands what you’re doing, nobody dreams about that. But that’s the everyday reality for an entrepreneur (and for lots of other fields too: everybody wants to see the show, but not what the dancer goes through to get there; to watch the match, but definitely not the hours and hours of repetitive practice the athlete puts in, etc.).
Storytelling covers up all the hard times, it doesn’t eliminate them. But that storytelling can distract people who are just starting out, people who are trying to become entrepreneurs. Don’t fall into that trap.
And don’t fall into the idea trap either. If an entrepreneur puts too much emphasis on ideas, they’re going to get eaten by the Idea Monsters. There are three of them:
Skepticism. It’s always easier to be skeptical than optimistic, and everyone who you talk to about your idea will prove it to you. Being skeptical basically has a 1000% return on investment for people, because if they end up being right and it doesn’t work, they say, “See? I told you.” And if they end up being wrong and it does work, they’ll find a way to say, “See, it’s because I helped you to see the big problem, so you did it right.”
Optimism. Yep, this too. After all, optimists tend to hang out together. And when they’re together, they can keep re-enforcing their optimistic tendencies. If you put a group of optimists together, they’ll end up thinking that anything will work. And that will block reality from reaching you and your project, it will let you avoid any real problems that do exist.
Dishonesty. Our upbringing, for all of us, doesn’t prepare us for the world of entrepreneurship. We’re simply not trained to actually tell people the truth. We learned that we shouldn’t say things that hurt others, that we should be kind (and thank god for that, it makes life in a society liveable - for the millionth time, we don’t want a world where everyone’s living like a startup entrepreneur all the time).
So if you talk to people about your idea, they’ll be skewed by their own optimism or pessimism, and then that reaction will be skewed even more by our social upbringing. It’s useless.
What’s useful is how you turn an idea into something real. And that’s the entrepreneurial process.
In the entrepreneurial process, there are tons of ideas. And you test them out and see which ones work. A startup isn’t the story of an idea. It’s the story of 400 ideas, of which 100 got tossed out, 300 got turned into something real and tested, 20 of them actually worked, and 1 of them made all the difference.