The entrepreneurial spirit was not born of logic and analytics.
They don’t call us dreamers, innovators and pioneers based on impressive gross margins, Facebook conversions or our (fictional) projected revenues.
Startups are born of passion. Although energetic and consuming, it may account for the failure of most new companies. Once successful, founders like to attribute their success to passion and it makes for a good story. But, anyone who’s worked in the trenches of a startup knows that relying on passion alone to build a business is as realistic as expecting the Tooth Fairy to pay your mortgage.
Passion is great on stage at tech conferences, but the difference between an idea and a business is execution.
The Light Bulb
My idea was born when I got a dog for the first time in my life and my children were entering the “tween” years. As Nora Ephron said in I Feel Bad About My Neck, “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” She’s not kidding.
How does any 40+ year-old mother express love for a new child? We buy them useless toys and treats, as often as possible. My dog must love the surprises. He leaps for joy when I bring home a new treat. (Then again, he eats poop, so his palate can’t be that discerning.) But, I think it makes him happy, so it makes me happy.
At my last in-house consulting gig we talked a lot about the compelling economics of a subscription business model – predictable recurring revenue, higher lifetime value, easier upsell, simpler price structure and more. What’s not to love?
OMG! Subscription Economics + Dog Crazy Parents = Dog Stuff-of-the-Month!
I Got This!
I talked to friends and family – a discerning and objective audience, right? – who agreed my idea was brilliant.
I knew I was missing a few things, but I was trying to throw perfectionism to the wind. No co-founder? I’ll find one. No high-quality low-cost technical resource? Ecommerce is self-service now. Well-funded competition? Market validated. Zero domain knowledge? I can learn, I have passion!
I should have taken an Ambien and gone to bed. But I didn’t.
I had logic too. I’d worked alongside founders at dozens of startups; I knew where things go wrong, it’s my career “je ne sais quois.” I was the one telling them to bootstrap, test assumptions, remain focused, tailor messages, be concise, update investors, simplify the UI & UX and overall, to look up once in awhile to see the big picture. I know what kind of stories drive traffic and I’d already built a company, I got this!
There’s No Team in “I”
Maybe you know someone who can calculate the waiter’s tip in milliseconds, yet ends a sentence with a preposition. Or someone who can fix your computer with a keystroke yet has the emotional IQ of a houseplant.
Startups require co-founders or non-cash incentivized consultants to perform a few critical roles. Passionate, inspirational leader, check. Hmmm…what am I forgetting?
At this point in my career, I know my strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I love to create ideas, lead teams, nurture relationships and solve problems.
I don’t enjoy manipulating numbers or creating organizational systems, two critical functions in company building. Beyond just smart business, managing from the numbers is central to The Lean Startup methodology. One could argue that today’s measurable, analytics-driven ecommerce world is simply a numbers game. If you don’t love to get dirty with numbers, find someone who does and adopt them – it’s the best advice I can muster.
Luckily, there’s still a place for us right brainers in business. In fact, in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink posits that the era of “left brain” dominance, is giving way to a world in which “right brain” qualities such as inventiveness, empathy and meaning will prevail. Pink’s book started a movement for business to embrace the value of creativity and innovation. I’m a big fan of Mister Pink.
Money Makes the World Go Round
I figured this inflection point in my career was the perfect time for me to take this kind of risk. I’d just come into some found money and I needed a professional transition. After reading Tim Ferris’s book The 4 Hour Workweek, I was excited to test some scrappy tactics to get this company off the ground. I would test ecommerce demand before acquiring inventory, tap the low-cost, high-quality talent overseas and spend less than $5K figuring out if I have I have a business. Let’s go!
In August 2012 my plan was set for the rest of the year: learn the pet space, create an MVP (minimum viable product), start testing early Dec., iterate, test, repeat. Perfect timing to tap into absurd holiday spending on pets.
Thankfully, this whole plan went off without a hitch. Only then, did I start living the startup dream.
Well, not so fast ….
Next week: The Cart Before the Horse