Don’t be Intimidated by Fail

(Originally posted on Tap This App)

Why To Do a Startup (Answer to Dave McClure)

I don’t know Dave. I follow him, because he’s sort of an icon in the Silicon Valley startup community. I like a lot of what he has to say about startups, and I guess he knows what he’s talking about since he’s been involved with investing in some successful startups.

But I hate his FailCon marketing campaign.

I think it’s a macho, negative, I’m better-smarter-cooler than you approach to intimidating entrepreneurs into joining the incubator 500 Start-Ups. Worse, I think many of his points are just wrong. So I’m answering them here, point by point.

#1 Yer a WANTrepreneur

Dude, everyone is a wantrepreneur before they start. Even Dave. Everyone thinks “it’s so fucking cool,” want to make a lot of money, and think they have the most awesome tech, because it is fucking cool. Some people do make a lot of money.  And there is a lot of awesome tech out there.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you’ll succeed or anyone will want your awesome tech. It’s like any other steep achievement curve: movie star, rock star, president of the United States. The rewards are HUGE but the mountain is high and full of cliffs.

Does that mean you’re lame for even trying? Hell no!


#2 You are a fat and lazy slob

You’ll definitely fail if you’re lazy. But it’s okay to be fat. Look, doing a startup really is about “Pain & Sacrifice” as Dave points out. You won’t live in a big house, you will worry about paying your bills, your family will likely start to hate you sometime in the middle of it and may not ever like you again (unless you’re super successful and start buying them stuff).

Can you live with that? How much do you really love your family and friends anyway?


#3 You have a business plan but no product and no customers

Nah…it’s perfectly okay to start from zero–how else are you going to start? Go ahead and make a business plan, if that’s how you visualize getting from point A to point Z.

Just remember that point B better be about building the product, and point C is getting the customers.


#4 Your idea sucks (and even your mom thinks so)

If your mom thinks your idea sucks, I would certainly rethink the project. Mom’s should be the first person to invest and the last person to lose faith in you.

Then again, moms (and users, and business people, and Dave himself) don’t always understand new ideas, technology or industries. Everyone on my floor at Google thought Twitter was the lamest thing they’d ever heard of… in 2008.

Don’t let lack of vision in those around you stop you from trying.


#5 You have an awesome solution…to a problem that does not exit

Here’s the problem with that statement: all of the best new technology is a solution to a problem that didn’t exist.

  • In 2001, did you sit around thinking, “if only I could spend all day sending very short statements to thousands of people I’ve never met?
  • In 1994 did it drive you bonkers that you couldn’t pick up your phone and call someone from a restaurant, your moving car or the airplane?
  • Last year, did you think you’d have more fun Tweeting when the power went out at the Superbowl than watching the commercials?

These are all problems we didn’t have until someone thought “Hey, what if we all could….”

So don’t be discouraged because some know-it-all thinks your solution is unnecessary.

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981

#6 You’re a loser, not a leader

Sigh. I don’t really get into the exchange of insults that teenage boys like to do. Let me just remind Dave that people aren’t losers. People lose stuff, or lose money, or quit. But not being charismatic (!), or getting beaten up (wth?) have nothing to do with being a successful entrepreneur. (Bill Gates, ‘nuf said.)

As for having wrong visions, every entrepreneur’s vision is wrong 90% of the time. If it weren’t they’d be Steve Jobs. Even Steve’s vision was frequently wrong (Lisa). That’s why we talk about pivoting, and back-burnering, and iteration.

Dave’s dead right about not believing other people when they tell you you’re wrong, though. So don’t believe in negative BS like FailCon.


#7  Your pitch sucks and you won’t raise money

Everybody’s pitch sucks the first 900 times they do it. Don’t let that stop you. Here’s how to fix most of that:

  • Remove 40 slides so your pitch deck is only 10 slides long.
  • Take out the technical jargon.
  • Dumb it way, way, way down. (Just get them to remember 3 things.)
  • Plan on making your main point over and over before the light finally goes on.
  • Demo Fail? Demos always fail. Always. Get used to it, don’t cry, don’t stop.

BTW, you’ll probably raise money. The odds are in your favor. But do you want to?


#8 Your team sucks and you have no idea how to hire or fire

If you can start the company without a cofounder, do that. Cofounders are married to each other. 50% of marriages end in divorce, the rest are troubled, volatile, miserable and on rare occasions, very satisfying. It’s your choice, but whether you found alone or cofound, know what you’re likely walking into.

Avoid hiring employees for as long as possible. Forever, if that’s possible.

  • Hire contractors and pay them by the project, not by the hour.
  • Don’t user recruiters. They’re too expensive and slimey.
  • As for the technical founder? It’s certainly cheaper if the engineer is working for free–but if you’re paying him, you can (usually) make sure he meets deadlines and goals. Make sure you pay when it ships, not by the hour.

On the otherhand, the UX designer is probably the most essential person on your team. Pay her tons of money, give her lots of SWAG and tell her she’s a rock star every single day.

#9 Cofounders & employees = Whiners

Yup. This one is true. Your cofounder will quit, take a fulltime job out of state, claim to be working remotely, ask for more of the company, stop doing any work at all, and basically make you resent ever working with him. Please see point #8.

Employees will want to take 3-weeks paid vacation right before a launch. They will steal the code, the domain, company hardward, and trash you to everyone behind your back. You will run out of money and people will be laid off, and they’ll all pretend it’s a total shock even though you’ve made it clear from day one that the budget is tight and the money is running out unless you get a customer.

No employee will ever care as much about customers as you. No employee will ever understand what it’s like to be the founder.


#10 You can’t sell or market 4 shit

But you can learn! Do these four things and in 6 months you’ll be a Marketing Maven.

  1. If you don’t understand marketing terms, Google them. That’s what Wikipedia is for.
  2. Play with social platforms until you get it. If your 14 year old niece has 1500 followers on Twitter, you should be able to get more.
  3. Sign up for Mailchimp, SurveyMonkey, Toonpow and the other great DIY platforms out there and learn to use them effectively. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even product development. It’s marketing, for god’s sake.
  4. Ask your friend who works in sales, or girlfriend who works in marketing, to help. Everyone has at least one of these in their network.
  5. Start a Conference for entrepreneurs and tell them they’ll fail unless they work with you <– already being done.


#11 You’d rather change the channel than change the world

If you’d rather watch Shark Tank than swim with the sharks, you probably didn’t even get to the end of this post. It’s okay if you’re a watcher not a doer. There’s a lot to be said for the 9-5 job with the 401k, the mortgage, family, and weekends off. You don’t have to change the world.

For those who do, you know your addiction. This really isn’t a choice. So don’t be discouraged. Most of us are guppies trying to make our way without being eaten by the McClure sharks out there. We’re not the CEO of Google, we didn’t found Facebook, and we snickered at Twitter for four years until we finally got it. But we’re still working hard, building products, schlepping to pitches with clients who don’t get it and are too hung over from the night before to try and get it.

But that’s the life, that’s the dream. And maybe, if you’re very, very, very lucky your hard work will pay off and you’ll be a Dave McClure, getting paid to discourage others from dreaming your dreams.

Won’t that be fun.

[Dear Dave, this was all written in good fun. I know you’re the shark, please don’t eat me for lunch.]


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