You’ll Be Dead Soon-Carpe Diem

11/30/11Follow @sgblank

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developing it. I’m going to dump it and look for a substitute.” So I called Bob and suggested we grab a coffee.

I asked him how things were going and got the update on how the earlyvangelists were using the product. As I had heard, they were ecstatic. But Bob said he was worried he hadn’t found the right customer segment yet. “I’m not sure I can get all of these guys to pay me big bucks,” he said. “That’s why I stopped coding, and I’m spending all my time out in the field still talking to more customers.” “What does your VC say you ought to be doing?” I asked. “Oh, he hasn’t had much time for me, his firm almost never does seed deals. It turns out I was an exception.” Oh, oh.

The conversation was starting to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Bob had gotten to a place most founders never do—his product was a “gotta have it for people with big budgets.” He should have been back rapidly coding, iterating and finding out what feature set would get him to paying customers.

Instead he had produced barely 3 weeks of progress in the last 5 months. His prototype was rapidly wearing out its welcome.

A Lack of Nerve
When I pressed Bob on this he admitted, “No I guess my engineers aren’t very good. But I hired guys who were cheap because I wasn’t sure if my hypotheses were right. Didn’t you tell us to test our hypotheses first?” Now it was my time to be surprised. “Bob, you’ve validated your hypotheses better than any startup I’ve ever seen. You found that out in the first month. You got customers begging you to finish the product so they could buy it. You should have been hiring world-class talent and building something these CIO’s will pay for. It’s not too late. It’s time to grab them by the throat and go for it.”

I wasn’t ready for the answer, “Steve, I’ve been reading all about premature scaling and making sure everything is right before I go for it. I want to be sure I get all of this right. I’m afraid I’ll run out of money.”

I thought I’d make one more run at it. “Bob,” I said, “few entrepreneurs get the first time response you have from an early product. At your rate you’re going to burn through your cash trying to get it perfect. It’s a startup. You’ll never have perfect information. You’re sitting on a gold mine. Grab the opportunity!”

I got a blank stare.

We made some more small talk and shook hands as he left.

Bob was in the wrong business, not the wrong market. He wanted certainty, comfort, and security.

I stared at my coffee for a long time.

Carpe diem—make your lives extraordinary.

Lessons Learned

  • Yes, premature scaling is a cause of startup death
  • Yes, you need to get out of the building and test your hypotheses
  • But, when an opportunity smacks you in the head for gosh sake grab it with both hands and don’t let go
  • If you can’t, get out of the startup game.

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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  • http://www.partsurf.co.nz nathan

    Thanks.. i was in the same shoe as bob once..I guess many people have…

    It’s not the lack of funding. but lack of nerve…not any more as I found that I have nothing to lose..

    Thanks once again.