It takes a fair sized ego to become an entrepreneur. You have to believe that you are capable of accomplishing something that most never dare to try and very few achieve. In many ways, stubborn self-confidence is a necessary personality trait because so much of entrepreneurship is about perseverance. That said, I’ve come to believe in a greater truth: in the grand scheme of things, we as entrepreneurs simply don’t know anything. Yes, we must swallow our egos and admit it. Entrepreneurship is a constant state of learning.
It’s not that we are not skilled in our respective craft (e.g. engineering, marketing, etc) or that we aren’t subject matter experts in our problem domain. Rather, building a business from the ground up involves so many other internal and external factors that it is virtually impossible to have all of the answers from the start. For example, you might be…
…a genius product designer, but…
- Is what you think is important also important to the customer? How much does the customer even care about the technology itself?
- What really separates you from competitive solutions? Will your customers see it the same way?
- Which product capabilities are really nice and interesting, and which ones actually impact your ability to acquire customers?
- Do you need a user interface to start selling? What about a real backend?
- What does your customer need in the product despite what they think they want?
- What key ingredient is missing from your product that nobody is talking about?
…a marketing mastermind, but…
- What are your key market segments? Which one should you target first? What about next?
- What marketing channels are relevant to your audience and which ones aren’t?
- In what ways must you change your approach over time as you increase brand awareness and acquire reference customers?
- What messaging resonates most with your target audience? If certain messaging is ineffective, how might you tweak it to make it effective?
- What can you optimize to achieve the most bang for the buck? And when do you move on to the next thing?
- How can you best impact the sales process? Are there objectives that could be better achieved via marketing rather than direct sales, or vice versa?
… a sales superstar, but…
- Who is your ideal customer contact? Is that the only person you should be interacting with during the sales process?
- What is your customer’s overall process for making a purchasing decision?
- What is your actual sales funnel? Where are sales getting stuck? How, if at all, can you impact the purchasing timeframe?
- How price sensitive is your customer? How can you tell that you are pricing correctly? Perhaps price is too high? Or too low (yes, really)?
- How should you best qualify a lead? Are there non-obvious patterns and characteristics among those that buy?
- What questions should you be asking your prospects? What do their answers actually tell you?
…a passionate and determined CEO, but…
- What is the most important thing you should be doing right now? Today? This week? This month? This year?
- Who and when do you need to hire? How will your hire impact the short term, versus the long term in this business?
- How applicable is the unique expertise and experience of each team member to the current situation? Are you empowering them correctly while ensuring that they too are continuing to operate in a state of learning?
The reality is that the answer to each of these questions is a function of who you are + what problem you are solving + who you are solving it for + how you are doing it + the current market conditions and timing + … + a host of other other factors. The first step in getting to the truth is admitting that you don’t yet have the answers. This is both humbling as well as empowering. It allows you to stop worrying about who is wrong and who is right; if nobody knows the answer, then trying and learning means that you are making progress towards the end goal. And, ultimately, creating real knowledge — rather than preaching assumptions and beliefs — is a much better way to stroke your ego.