Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m a podcast junkie. I listen, on average, for about an hour each day. I make time for this by listening to podcasts while cooking, eating, doing laundry or tackling other mundane-but-essential tasks.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of my favorites because Ferriss dives into so many different topics. Recently, he conducted an excellent interview with Chris Sacca. I’d heard Sacca’s name before but didn’t realize he was an early-stage investor in Twitter, Uber, Instagram and Kickstarter. Sacca obviously has a fairly good idea of what he’s looking for in an entrepreneur, so, I wondered, do I fit the mold?
Confidence vs Doubt
One of Sacca’s core beliefs is that a founder must have absolute confidence that his or her product will succeed. “If I look at all the most successful founders I’ve backed, the thing they have is the inevitability of success,” he stated. "They’re not hoping and praying for success, they know it’s going to happen.”
Whenever Sacca is being pitched, he pays close attention to a founder’s tone. If it sounds like there’s an air of doubt, as though the founder hasn’t completely convinced themselves of what they’re trying to accomplish, he knows it’s a deal to pass on.
This makes a lot of sense from an investment standpoint, but entrepreneurship inevitably comes with uncertainty. According to Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, determination is the key component:
“[Determination] has turned out to be the most important quality in startup founders. We thought when we started Y Combinator that the most important quality would be intelligence. That's the myth in the Valley. And certainly you don't want founders to be stupid. But as long as you're over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is determination. You're going to hit a lot of obstacles. You can't be the sort of person who gets demoralized easily.”
The Tipping Point
To be fair, Sacca is well aware that startups constantly face uncertainty. His analysis is focused specifically at the point when the founder is asking to risk other people’s money, which means they need to be completely confident in what they’re doing. In order to get to that point, a startup should have gone through many iteration since the initial idea, each time ironing out wrinkles of doubt.
This is why Sacca “...almost always only invest[s] in things that are already live in production.” This ensures that he’s working with a founder, and a team, that have confidence in what they’re doing and can successfully work together.
Unless you’ve taken the time to discuss your idea with your target audience, there’s no reason to have confidence in your idea, he suggests. It doesn’t matter how good of an idea you think it is. As humans, we’re inherently biased to like our own ideas. If you’re creating art, you can do without the external validation. A business, on the other hand, requires customers.
It took a few years for me to learn this lesson. As an aspiring entrepreneur, your job is to resist building something until you’ve confirmed that you’re solving a specific problem, and that there are people who have this problem. You’ll waste a lot of time if you develop solutions for problems that no one has.
The best way to avoid this is to adopt the lean methodology proposed by Eric Ries. The Lean Startup philosophy is concerned with validating a business idea before pursuing it. Not only does this ensure that a business's direction is being guided by its future customers, but it also has the potential to save an entrepreneur a lot of time if an idea flops (and most of them will).
Here’s a final tip for building confidence: Build an MVA (minimum viable audience), then an MVP. Build an email list and a Twitter following, then start interacting with that audience. What do they want? Build that.
About the Writer
Jerad Maplethorpe is an aspiring entrepreneur, self-taught web developer, avid traveler and enthusiast of paradigm-shifting thinking. Jerad is the founder of Narrow, a Twitter marketing platform designed to save entrepreneurs time. You can find him on twitter at @maplethorpej.
This was written by a SG contributor.
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