Entrepreneurship is a rocky, uneven journey shrouded in the thick fog of ambiguity and imperfect information.
It’s too easy get comfortable thinking you’re marching down the right path or that the big easy path naturally means it’s going where you want to go.
The way I think of it is that at every step I take, there is a minor fork in the road. It can seem minor and inconsequential but eventually they add up.
And you have two ways to decide which fork you can choose.
You can ask yourself or you can ask that person, your user, standing next to the fork.
It’s no surprise that the first is infinitely easier. It’s also easy to believe it’s better. After all, I know my company the best, I have months and years of intuition built up, I can decide at least the majority of the little forks and then perhaps ask a user standing next to the path when I get to the big forks.
And that’s exactly wrong. It’s this thinking that leads companies over cliffs or down paths that are hard if not impossible to return from.
The trick I’ve found is that at every one of those forks, no matter how minor, to at least check my intuition with a user. To ask that person standing along the side of the road how they see the fork and what they would do.
In the beginning it seems so inefficient. It feels uncomfortable. It is hard to see the benefit.
But over time it becomes habit and habit becomes instinct. Before long you’re talking to users, getting feedback in ways and times that you don’t even notice anymore. That email has that one insight, that casual conversation that other. And you look up and you see that you’re actually not alone on this journey. Far from it – the whole path is lined with your users, just waiting to talk to you.
You just have to train yourself to seek it and teach yourself to see it.
And it’s not only you. Every single person on your team has to see the world in the same way. Has to yearn to get answers not from within but from the outside.
Not everyone will want to. Even fewer will get to that place that it becomes instinct.
But for early stage start-ups there is no choice.
I think of this for my own company all the time. It might have been okay when we were only 3 or 4 people, for my co-founder and I to lead the way. We walked the path so closely together and in sync so it was okay.
But now, even with only 8 people I see how each person must be a champion of this approach. Each person must find their way to make sure we all stay on the same path, the same journey. The only way that I know to do this is that we must all have the same facts guiding the same intuition.
It’s a lot of what is talked about when people talk about culture. But this is how culture feeds product and product feeds culture.
The journey is long and the path uneven – we all know that. What is less known is that it doesn’t have to be quite as lonely and as uncertain. You have users just waiting to talk to you, to guide you, to confide in you.
You just have to be willing to ask for directions.