The year is 2007, and I had just left Microsoft to dive into the startup world. Like many first time entrepreneurs, I was very excited about the adventure. And like many first time entrepreneurs, I didn’t know where to start.
So I attended events, meetups, conferences, and mingled with the local startup community in Seattle. When time came to move to the Bay Area, I found even more events, more meetups, and more conferences. The startup ecosystem was so busy and alive, and I found a wealth of knowledge and experience being shared, which I consumed eagerly.
There were also blogs, videos, interviews, and books that I ingested with passion. They made great conversation topics during the events, the meetups and the conferences.
I even joined a startup incubator!
It wasn’t until I decided to launch my own startup that I realized that nothing I’ve read, watched or attended really prepared me for it. And I mean it. Absolutely NOTHING. I had forgotten most of what I’ve learned, and what I remembered didn’t apply much to my situation. I’ve been snacking on other people’s experiences and successes, and like good junk food, it made me feel bloated and satisfied.
Sorry to be a party pooper, but that’s reality.
In the beginning, I tried applying the things I’ve learned to my situation. That didn’t work. The magic moment really happened when I made peace with the fact that I’d just wasted a good deal of time learning things I didn’t really need, believing there was a magic word someone would utter that would launch me into action. Every event, every conference, and every blog post was just another excuse to postpone action one more day. I made peace with it and moved on with a beginner’s mindset, believing that I will figure out what I need along the way.
And that made all the difference.
There is a part in each one of us that wants to create, deliver, and launch into an entrepreneurial adventure with all the uncertainty and risk that it brings. But there is also the other part, the one that wants to feel certain and confident that we’re making the right decision, and we’re not going to fail and hurt ourselves along the way. And that’s where most of the friction comes from.
But these blogs, these events, and these interviews didn’t really remove that friction. For a while, it just gave me some comfort knowing there were enough people doing the same things. Going into entrepreneurship was outside of my comfort zone, and I’d just I moved from one comfort zone into another. And you know what? I was in good company!
One day I had my reality check and saw that I was busy doing many things, except working on my product. A couple of months later, I can say with full confidence: the only thing that counted was to actually sit down and do the work.
Don’t take me wrong. I think some blogs and conferences are valuable. But unless you’re already working on something that provides the framework for your learning and networking, you’d be wasting some valuable time.
Here are some action steps that helped me overcome the “startup friction syndrome”:
- I stopped reading startup news and blogs for a few weeks, and I realized I didn’t miss anything related to my products. It didn’t matter who got funded, who got acquired, or why Internet Explorer was losing market share against Google Chrome. The only WHOs I care about are the customers, and the only WHATs I focus on are their needs and desires, and how to best deliver value to them.
- I stopped going to startup events for a couple of months, and started catching up with friends over coffee or drinks instead. I still go to one or two events each month, but I do it for fun. I no longer confuse going to entrepreneurship events with being an entrepreneur.
- I taught myself through small projects. I broke down ideas into small manageable chunks, and gave myself deadlines to finish each of them. Projects and experiments are amazing teaching devices, because you learn as needed, and you learn first-hand. Keynotopia has helped tremendously in getting ideas out of my head and into a format that I can quickly see, interact with, and show to potential customers – that’s why I created it in the first place! Sometimes these small projects can even become profitable
- In each step, I came up with a list of questions that would help me move to the next step. Whether it was getting more traffic, improving the product, or increasing revenue without increasing traffic, I came up with the best questions I could, then I did research, asked people, and I put the answers into action immediately. Every information not acted on takes too much space in my biological memory stick.
- This is my favorite: I created more fear of not starting than the fear of starting. I realized that every day I waited a customer was not getting my solution, and a competitor was getting closer to that solution before I did. I even imagined my worst nightmare if I’d failed to take action: I was Milton from Office Space, tucked in the corner cubicle of Innotech, staring at my red stapler, and waiting for my next paycheck. That was the magic kick-in-the-butt I was looking for.
- I first got things done, then I got them done right. I learned (the hard way) that momentum mattered most. If I can’t take action right away on my idea, chances are I never will. Whenever I get an idea nowadays, I do something to pin it to my reality, and to make it tangible. I do it in a quick and ugly way, then figure out how to do it better, and learn only what I need for that.
- I faced reality: nothing was going to happen until I went out of my comfort zone and did it. Many wait, but a few act.
I want to leave you with a quote that changed my life: successful people aren’t necessarily smarter or luckier than others. They just try so many things and fail until something works out.
Don’t be an entrepreneur by association. Be an entrepreneur by action and results.
Have you been in a similar situation? Share your experience in a comment below.
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