The never-ending dilemmas of an entrepreneur
Start your own business and you will soon discover that the life of an entrepreneur is full of dilemmas -- ones that have no easy answers.
Yes, we may have learnt some lessons from the dot-com crash of 2000, and some of those learnings apply even today. But the environment in which we operate is far more complex and dynamic than ever before. As a result, there are more questions than answers.
What compounds the problem is the fact that many entrepreneurs often have no one they can approach with such questions -- friends and family may not have the business context or skills, and experienced mentors are hard to find.
It starts with the kind of organization you wish to build.
Some will advise you to build a Lean Startup while others will advocate the importance of thinking big.
A ‘lean’ startup means bootstrapping your way to success, building on a Minimum Viable Product, and iterating based on real customer inputs. Thinking big, on the other hand, involves ambitious plans that need a fair bit of funding and large-scale thinking for them to succeed.
This issue assumes even greater importance if you're not already flush with capital, since the "run way" you have to remain in business will be directly impacted by the choices you make in this regard.
So, which way should you go? Is being cautious better than being ambitious when it comes to building a business?
It's not just the organization -- your product approach can significantly impact your chances of success.
A newly-created product or service should either address a specific customer need previously unmet, or do it in a manner that is cheaper or better than current alternatives. But how good is "good enough"?
Should you labor over the details of every pixel, ensure that even the packaging is picture perfect? Or should you focus on the all-important shipping date, and risk rolling out a buggy or less-than-perfect version to paying customers?
Some will remind you that the earliest versions of Facebook or Google were far from ideal, while others will wax eloquent about the attention to detail that makes Apple products such a worldwide hit.
Which path is better? Which route is likely to bring success?
Simply building an excellent product is not enough -- there are dimensions to your market strategy that also need clarity.
A key question here is: How important is competition? Should you be focused on improving on the competition or ignoring the competition and building something no one else has done before?
Peter Thiel advocates in 'Zero to One' that incremental advances will only get you so far -- what's needed is to choose boldness over triviality, not just make incremental advances. But in the 'Lean Startup', Eric Ries writes of the virtues of the iterative cycle of Build-Measure-Learn, and of continuous testing and experimentation.
So, who is right? Which approach will get you the glory and riches you so deserve?
Even if you've figured out the answers to all of the above, there is the issue of the most important resource of all -- Money.
Here too, the choices are as tricky as you can imagine. After all, every business has a limited amount of capital at its disposal, and often needs to make choices on how that money should be spent.
So, should you seek capital early on to ensure rapid scale-up, or delay external funding as much as you can to retain ownership and control? Should you focus on revenue, or place a priority on growth and customer acquisition so that a competitor does not end up blowing you out of the game altogether?
What's the best way to solve this dilemma?
The journey within
What should a business owner do when facing such choices?
Well, my learning has been that the journey is more of self-discovery.
Yes, it is important to learn how the ecosystem works, how business works, and how the economy is shaping trends that can be leveraged to your advantage. But, it is equally important to know what you are, and what matters to you.
That understanding of ‘self’ becomes your compass when you seek answers to such dilemmas. That understanding is how you separate the noise from the music as you figure out the answers for yourself. And, that understanding informs your decisions as you traverse the path that you alone must walk.
Lewis Carroll got it right when he said, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."
Yes, you will continue to face conflicting advice, and come across opinions of business leaders that make you question your own beliefs. But a true entrepreneur must stand his ground in the face of adversity and conflict. After all, the ones who change the world are "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels"!