When beginning a startup venture, should you start with the customer or the vision? It is a question that often comes up in my conversations with entrepreneurs. This thought came up again recently in my Explaining the Product post and nailed home in a startup post-mortem I read yesterday, so it made sense to address it now.
I have been leery of the lean startup movement for some time. The good is that it rightly encourages entrepreneurs to proactively gather customer feedback and develop an iterative product development process. The bad however is that it tends to overemphasize customer feedback over an entrepreneur’s own instincts and desires. This in turn leads to misguided iterations, constant second-guessing, and eventual exhaustion as the team tires from the lack of direction.
While I do not want to lay into someone that just wrote about the demise of his startup, it is clear that this was a startup doomed from the start. I have said this before and will continue to say that you cannot fake passion. If the founders are not 100% passionate about the idea they are launching, the startup will fail 100% of the time.
There are tons of reasons people can list as to why a startup does not work out. They will talk about a tough market, or wrong team, or lack of product-market fit, or even money. Those are indeed important, but are consequences and excuses rather than causes. So in the post-mortem, the team was not really passionate about the employer brand monitoring challenge, it was something that was stumbled upon and pursued without the slightest bit of knowledge or experience. Lacking knowledge or experience is not the worst thing in the world, but when you are only half-heartedly pursing an idea, that’s just another large obstacle to climb and chore to accomplish.
So getting back to our question, should you start with the customer or the vision? I would say that it starts with you first. Can you truly see yourself wanting to do that idea several years from now? Is there a burning desire that eats at you to drop everything and drop your entire soul into this dream? If you start with the passion first, then it really does not matter whether you are customer driven or vision driven. There are plenty of successful companies that have used the lean startup methodology to some degree, but there are also companies like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft that were grown from the seeds of strong-willed founders with big visions.
Do not be the startup that simply chases problems. Many folks pursuing the lean startup route are simply fishing around for an idea to execute. This in turn leads to small ideas launched by founders that lack the strength of conviction in that very idea. Given all that one has to give up in order to build a startup, why would anyone proceed if he or she is merely lukewarm about the idea to begin with? If you are going to chase anything, chase your dreams, not a business model.