Listen to customers, not investors

If you’re going to start or sustain a business, you’ll need customers. You won’t need investor feedback. In fact, listening to too many investors has the potential to kill the energy that surrounds a promising new venture.

So don’t listen to investors.

Listen to customers.

It’s the marketplace that will determine whether you have something. If customers are interested, if they’re giving good feedback, if they’re willing to pay for your product or service, the investors will follow.

The startup community places too much emphasis on the investor, on the demands created by the image of his or her fund, and the returns he or she expects.

Don’t let the rules imposed by the self image of another business cast a dark cloud over yours. Your business exists to serve customers.

Lots of startups wait around for an investor to bless their idea, thinking that’s the path to success. But here’s the problem.

Investors are almost always wrong.

The vast majority of their ventures fail. Most don’t have anything approaching a crystal ball. No matter what they may say, it’s not just about great entrepreneurs and great ideas, it’s about hitting the next grand slam, and all the accolades that go along with that. It’s about ego, and investor ego has nothing to do with creating an amazing experience for your customers.

Funds don’t want great business ideas, they want startups that can double the size of the fund with GIANT returns. But here’s the problem. The potential return on investment way, way down the line is unknowable (again, see most investors fail). All the emphasis at the outset on “MAKE SOMETHING REALLY BIG THAT WILL EAT THE WORLD,  AHHHHHH!!! DISRUPT, BLAHHHHH” actually gets in the way of entrepreneurs making useful things for customers.

The “10X” sales pitch VC uses to raise money for their funds, doesnt have much to do with what will make a solid, profitable, business. Unfortunately, there is a whole class of startups out there whose goal is more VC, not profit, not self sufficiency.

Famous VC Fred Wilson said it well:

Investors have their own agenda. They want to invest in “bigger ideas” and “larger outcomes”. When they tell you that your idea is too small, they may be talking to themselves, not you. Do not make their problems your problems. This is your business, not theirs.”

If you’re raising capital for a startup, customer feedback, especially feedback that comes up again and again, is gospel.

Casual investor “advice” is not.

Back to Fred:

You have spent way more time and energy thinking about your business than someone who takes a 30 minute meeting with you, having never thought about it for one iota, and then gives you a ton of advice that you are doing everything wrong. You have to learn to hear that feedback but not react to it.

If you have a business idea you’re proud of,  one you believe in, talk to lots and lots of customers. Learn what their issues are, and how you can help them. Get the customer to bless the idea.

Then go talk to some investors.

If you must.

Startup prosperity

Many people are waiting for prosperity. It cannot come in the future.

Eckhart Tolle

Both startup founders and investors are often hyper-focused on the “exit,” that time in the future where all the hard work of building a business will pay off.

There’s nothing wrong with being compensated for hard work, but hopes of “cashing out” shouldn’t be the primary motivator for creating or investing. The exit doesn’t yet exist, it may never exist. Chasing it is the best way to build something really shitty. When that time does eventually come, the excitement is over. You’ll then need to go find more.

The real prosperity of a startup is in the uncertainty. It happens during the times when the business may fail, when investors doubt the idea. Taking on risk and pursuing dreams others won’t, that’s a form of prosperity all in itself.

The opportunity to get up in the morning and work on something you created. That’s a blessing regardless of the ultimate “success or failure” of the business.

The opportunity just to do the work.

Your own work. 

Therein lies the prosperity.

You define your business

Entrepreneurs, especially early in their careers, are often put in the uncomfortable position of having to justify what they do, both to friends and themselves. The early days never match your ambition. After all, what can you say you really “do” when you spent the day working in your underwear?

Don’t take yourself too seriously, but be vigilant against downgrading your dreams to match the subtle swipes of others. You define your business and what it can become.

The crowd does not.

Especially before it’s reached maturity, other people want to define your business, so they feel better about theirs. When you announce yourself as as an entrepreneur, you’re effectively saying you found a better way. Rather than climbing through an existing system, you’re creating a new one. For those who are invested in the status quo, this can be quite the blow. They’re working hard to advance in their hierarchy, and are motivated by its fruits. Word of a better, more exciting, potentially more lucrative path can be upsetting to the company man.

The comfort of a stable job may seem appealing at your lowest moments. You may be down on your plan at just the moment that face at the cocktail party lights up after learning that you work from a home office. Keep your head up. The goal isn’t recognition. It’s excellence, independence, and problem solving. Don’t lose sight of the motivations people bring to the table with their criticisms.

Creations are malleable, unknown quantities. Letting others define yours is akin to asking the dude next to you at the hospital to name your newborn baby.

No.

You decide your baby’s name, you raise it and shape it according to your vision. You love it.

You decide what it becomes and when it’s arrived, how high it can fly…

Aren’t you rich?

I want you to show me again and again, and never for the last time. Take me behind hostile doors, seat me in leather, waft Cuban smoke.

Take me with you. Give me stranger smiles and square feet.

Aren’t you rich?

Advance me a peg.

Make my Dad proud.

Build me a home, buy me a car, commission a garden.

Hide me behind thick walls and beautiful fabric.

Don’t you worry.

Our sadness will foot the bill.

The couple that loves you

Raised with hope,

worried over.

Seen floundering,

but beautifully so.

Your stroked hair births a momentum,

that pushes you past unloved men in invisible races.

So many days at an office,

the pride of a lion youth swallowed.

And so you carry a violent burden,

that doesn’t allow for hesitant steps.

It’s a mantle built by a pair.

It gives justification,

to every fleeting pursuit,

to every club,

every entryway,

every piece of cloth.

But only if…

Those things give sound sleep,

to the couple that loves you.

Stuff in a room I control

I look through windows,

and see stuff,

on display,

in rooms I don’t control.

Maybe one day.

If I make enough money.

I can buy that stuff.

Have it delivered.

To a room I control.

I’ll tip the men $10 each,

maybe more.

And there it will sit.

In my room.

That I control.

You can come see it.

I’ll invite you just so you can.

My stuff.

Laughing at me and my hourglass title.

People to forget

“Let us forget with generosity those who cannot love us”

Pablo Neruda

As we go through life, inevitably we come across people, who for one reason or another, don’t love, or even like us. Accepting this is part of growing.

And growth is an important goal. But letting go of enemies (no matter how benign) is equally important.

When I do this, they’ll see” is a dangerous trap because it places those who don’t understand us in control.

Winning love from an enemy doesn’t represent success. Forgetting an enemy by gently taking the sting out of their imagined indictments does.

Work to please the love in your life, not those who withold it.