Every entrepreneur thinks that their new venture is the best, world-changing idea out there. But I have a different thought that is best summed up as – your baby is ugly.
To explain, let me start with my own story.
I got into business when I was just 23. I left a stable, comfortable job in the oil sector with an idea to connect farms together through a bulletin board system – delivering pricing, weather, news and information.
Only 11% of the farmers owned a computer in Canada so it was a bad idea from the onset but through my research, I realized my real opportunity was in training. I was going to sell computers, farm accounting software and training, because 89% of the market didn’t have anything.
To give perspective to this idea – here’s a 23 year old kid, who had never managed a company, didn’t have a computer degree, didn’t grow up on a farm, didn’t have any contacts, and didn’t have any customers.
This is the extreme version of your baby is ugly.
The 44-year-old version of me never would have invested in this idea – EVER. I’d have run away from the 23 year old version of me, because he didn’t know what he didn’t know.
Back when I was 23, I didn’t ask for help because for me it was a sign of weakness. I have seen this so many times that I’ve realized an entrepreneur’s initial ideas for their business need refinement, maturity and the benefit of review by others. Just that willingness to ask the question, to take feedback and to have hard discussions will make all the difference.
The truth is, your first idea is your worst idea.
Here’s what happened to me when I first started out. I had a payout package from my former employer and I used that money to send out unaddressed ad mail to every rural address in southern Alberta.
I printed 28,000 pamphlets (I wanted to start small) called Harvesting the Internet. To kick off the initiative, I had scheduled presentations in three communities a day to show farmers what the Internet was and what computers could do. Then the goal was that they’d sign up for my training, buy computers and software.
So I took boxes and boxes of an 8.5” x 11” page with tiny font; 1000 words per page to Canada Post. Yes, that was my pamphlet – it was the dictionary!
At the time, I had no idea that it took six weeks from when you dropped off ad mail at Canada Post to when it actually went into the recipients’ mailboxes.
Two weeks after the mail drop, I had arranged to go to Bassano, Gleichen, and Brooks for my first road trip.
I bought all the equipment, (screen, projectors, computer, and software) and I rented a van. At 5:00 am, I loaded it all up and headed out to Bassano.
I had rented the community halls in all of these towns and had a 40-cup urn filled up with coffee – ready for the onslaught.
But no one came. I thought it was weird, but I was undeterred. I packed up all my stuff. Loaded up my van and continued down the road to Gleichen and did it all again.
No one showed up except the man who let me into the building and he was sitting at the back of the room.
I said to the guy, “How would you like to hear my presentation?”
So he grabbed a front row chair and I started my presentation. I ended with…”So with computers you can revolutionize the world”…ta da. Then I asked him, “Are you interested?”
His response “I would be if I farmed…but I drive the school bus.”
This was awful on so many levels!
When I finally got back and called Canada Post, I got the explanation.
Looking back on that initiative, it was so poorly executed and I was embarrassed…mortified.
The thought that I had given up a perfectly good career at a company was tough to swallow. And to ask someone for help was like admitting defeat.
In hindsight, I have realized that people have different reasons for not wanting to ask the tough questions. But when I look at one of the fatal flaws that entrepreneurs make, it’s that they don’t ask for help. They don’t bounce ideas off people who will give them honest, maybe painful, feedback. They burn a tremendous amount of time and energy that they’ll never get back.
The message here isn’t that your idea is bad – it’s that your idea is not refined.
I believe that the group is always smarter than the individual. So if you allow the idea to mature – with unbiased people who have your best interests at heart – you are going to be so much more successful…much faster than if you take the Jory Lamb approach and send 28,000 unaddressed ad mailers out.
Ask the tough questions. Learn from others. And be a proud parent.