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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Your Baby Is Ugly

I've come to realize many people are really fixated on their ideas. This is likely one of the very basic mistakes an entrepreneur can make. Entrepreneurship, especially in the context of startups, is all about discovery. You probably know the story of Christopher Columbus who set out to discover a route to the East Indies. Instead he found something else.

I think Columbus' case sums up quite well what it's about. You might have an initial, a direction. You could easily end up somewhere else in the end, though. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Initial idea is just a starting point. It is your duty as an entrepreneur to survey the surrounding world and make your reality match the actual one. The last thing you want to be doing is spending blood, sweat and tears on something that does not work out. If you are going to make a long trip, you had better prepare well.

Mitigating the Risks

There are multiple ways to mitigate the risks involved. Of course you cannot get rid of them entirely. But not doing your due diligence before delving into actual product development is just foolish.

I already hinted at one way in an earlier post, Ash Maurya's Lean Canvas. Alex Osterwalder's Business Model Canvas is another. They provide very basic frameworks that allow to visualize your assumptions and develop actual, working business models. In essence these are tools for customer development.

I believe knowing your actual customers and their pains well is one of they keys in building a successful business. To quote Sir Richard Branson, running a business is all about making a difference in people's lives. How is it that you are making the difference?

You will also want to understand how your business relates to others. Who compete with you? What value do you provide? Can you form strategic partnerships?

These are just some examples of questions you will have to ask yourself. In addition you will want to think about overall goals and milestones of your business to drive it forward. Just starting off from somewhere won't do. You will have to make the numbers work.


No idea exists in a vacuum. When your vision and the reality collide, the latter wins. This is the reason why you really need to take market research seriously. I know this is a hard thing for us technical people to swallow. The thing is this allows us to validate our ideas and initial assumptions. Perhaps the baby isn't so ugly after all. And besides, if you are going to fail, it is better to fail fast rather than to spend a few years of your life doing that.

If you want to know more about startups and Business Model Canvas, I really recommend checking out Steve Blank's free course on Udacity. The lectures are somewhat entertaining and I for one gained a lot by going through those and the questionnaires involved.

Not so ugly baby african pygmy hedgehog by Adam Foster (CC BY-NC-ND)