Episode 299 | 7 Entrepreneurial Blind Spots

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about 7 entrepreneurial blind spots. They outline some areas that people can overlook but can potentially cause issues down the road. This topic was inspired by a case study Mike is putting together on self-funded launch statistics to help people make better decisions for their business.

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Transcript

Mike [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Start Ups for the Rest of Us,’ Rob and I are going to be talking about seven entrepreneurial blind spots. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” episode 299.

Welcome to ‘Startups for the Rest of Us,’ the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

Rob: [00:25]: And I’m Rob.

Mike: [00:27]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week Rob?

Rob: [00:30]: Well I’m in Minneapolis, sir. I’m only one-hour time difference off from you now.

Mike: [00:34]: Very cool So now I don’t have to schedule things much later in the day.

Rob: [00:37]: That’s right. So it’s been fun. I just got here a couple days ago and you had mentioned that you’ve been to Minneapolis but this is really just my second time. I’ve been here for two days a couple months ago. And it’s a pretty sweet city. Obviously, you know the big thing everyone thinks of is the cold and it’ll definitely be getting cold here soon but, there’s a lot of really interesting things going on here. Really good culture; there’s good museums, great bands come through, and the food scene is really top notch. So far I’m a fan.

Mike: [01:05]: Well now that you’re there I can tell you about the time that I went there in the middle of January, and it was so cold that the LCD on my car literally took several minutes to light up.

Rob: [01:15]: Yes.

Mike: [01:17]: Because it just wouldn’t light up because it was –

Rob: [01:18]: That is going to be so much fun. It’s going to be awesome. You know I did a Connecticut winter and a Boston winter.

Mike: [01:23]: Oh, it’s so much worse.

Rob: [01:24]: That’s what I’m hearing. I heard that it’s colder here but less snow. Is that accurate?

Mike: [01:27]: It is. Yes, because when I was there it was god awful cold but, I mean there was very little snow. It didn’t snow much at all but it was just bitter cold, and when the wind comes through it’s just ridiculous.

Rob: [01:40]: I will be looking at what I can do to work out of the Fresno office for a few weeks there in January because it will be like 70 something there. How about you, what’s been going on?

Mike: [01:50]: Well, I’ve been going through the data migration that I talked about a little bit last week, where I had to move a ton of stuff onto new data storage system. And I kicked that off yesterday, right now it’s about 53 percent done it’s been running for, I don’t know, almost a full day at this point. So needless to say, babysitting something like this kind of sucks. It’s very distracting because if something goes wrong the whole thing stops, and then you have to go in, figure out what went wrong and restart everything and fix it. It’s just kind of a pain. But for the most, part I’ve only had to restart it once and everything else seems to be going pretty well. So hopefully this will be done by tomorrow and I can move on to other things.

Rob: [02:25:] I hate background jobs like this it totally keeps me from being able to focus on work. I keep checking it every 15 minutes, just to check on it, and that’s still like the worst way to be productive. Especially if you have something like you’re trying to write, or you’re trying to do something that requires some type of calm mind, that’s the worst.

Mike: [02:45]: It’s kind of interfering – I’ve got this other thing I’m doing right now where I’m trying to gather data for a study. And I sent out an email to my mailing list essentially to ask people to volunteer information for their self-funded products that they’ve launched, or that they’ve tried to launch. And the goal of this case study is to try and aggregate as much information as I can about different types of products that people have attempted; what stage they got to, whether they launched or not, how much customer development they did in advance, how much money they spent, how much time they spent, and whether or not they deem that as a successful product launch and are they still working on it today; what happened to it in the end.

And the goal of this is to be able to publish data around that so that people can make determinations about oh, I’m working on this particular type of product – let’s say it’s a SaaS app or maybe a WordPress plugin or something like that, and they’ve spent X thousand dollars, and four months of time on it. Is that normal for that type of product or is it in edge cases, is it an extreme. Or have they not done nearly as much as what other people have done? Because most people are kind of operating in this vacuum where they don’t know that type of information. So you get four months, six months in and you don’t know how to compare yourself relative to other products that have launched along those lines. And it’s hard to make decisions about whether or not you should keep going and push harder or whether you should walk away.

Rob: [04:08]: Remember the four to six month rule I used to throw out all the time. I was like four to six months of spare time is what you need to do to launch. Now that may not apply to what is being launched but I think that for morale, for most people that’s about the extent of what I’d recommend for a first timer, launching a product. Like if you go longer than that, you’ve picked something to hard, you’re not working hard enough on it, or you’re just going to kind of lose morale, you know, and lose motivation after that. I find it’s really hard to keep going six months of hacking away in your basement.

Mike [04:38]: I tend to agree with you but at the same time that’s a general feeling that is not backed up by fact or data.

Rob [04:45]: Right, it’s anecdotal. It’s like –

Mike [04:48]: Exactly.

Rob [04:50]: [crosstalk] a dozen people, but it doesn’t have a very high in for those who have done statistics.

Mike [04:53]: So I’ll link that case study in the show notes, in case anyone listening to this wants to contribute data to it. And I actually put in the case study at the bottom, you have the option to say hey, please make everything that I tell you completely anonymous. Or if you’re more along the lines of share everything, I may take some of the things that you send in and make a full in depth piece of the case study about that, just kind of a highlight of that. But I leave it up to the people who are kind of contributing the data to make that decision or determination based on how comfortable they feel about it.

Rob [05:22]: Very cool, so as you said we will link that up in the show notes. So the good news for me is there’s just been a lot going on the last few weeks with Drip. I mean now that the Leadpages acquisition has been finalized and announced, and we’re moving forward with actually taking advantage essentially of the vast resources that they have, we’re able to move quickly on things that have, frankly, been on my list for a long time. Some things that we’re going to be implementing in the next month or two have been like in my notebook for a year or two because they just required resources that we didn’t easily have access to, or it required to much money. You know it’s either too much support, too much money, or too much engineering time, or something. And now we just have the ability to take advantage of that very quickly because there’s just such a big team here, able to support us.

Like one example of that is, we launched a one dollar a month plan that supports up to 100 contacts. I don’t know if you remember if you heard Dharmesh talk about cheapium plan; like not going freemium but cheapium where you’re basically charging cost. And that’s the idea here i to get as close to free as possible but still keeping it reasonable. And there’s spam concerns and stuff. If you make a free plan you kind of have to have a whole team doing anti-spam stuff.

So anyways, this one dollar a month plan for full marketing automation, it’s unheard of. The tools that are comparable to us are one 199 bucks a month and up. And that’s where they start. There is one competitor who used to have like a nine-dollar plan but they pretty much, for all intents, discontinued it. So even they now are $49 a month and up. So even though this plan is loaded to a 100 subscribers it’s still a really interesting offering in the market. We think that not only can early stage people use but even people just looking to kick the tires. It kind of means you can just have a trial forever. Like if you just want to kind of try some stuff out on a simple thing, or see about the new workflow feature, or whatever, it’s like paying a buck a month to have access to it is kind of trivial. So when this goes live we will have announced it the prior week and I’m interested to see – it’s in a couple days and I’m interested to see the response to that. But, really excited about that.

And that’s one thing, again, that you can’t do as a bootstrapper because you can’t handle the support load because instantly just get way more trials and the revenues not there immediately to be able to support all those users. So that’s pretty cool. The other thing we did, which is just awesome – again this was something I’ve always wanted to do but needed the money is we were able to double our affiliate commission. We used to pay 15% recurring and we pay 30% recurring now. And right away we notified our affiliates and we just kind of got all these positive reflections. We’re like, man, if this is the stuff you can do when you have essentially Leadpages or more money or more resources, then keep doing this, keep going in this direction.

It’s exciting to be able to do that stuff because whether you come up with good ideas – sometimes you come up with a lot of good ideas and a lot of them are impractical because of lack of funds; or lack of design talent; or lack of developer resources or whatever. And just seeing things really open up. And that was the intent. Like we talked about last week and the episode where we dove in. That was really the intent. And to see two of them just come up right away and for us to be able to push those, it feels really good.

Mike [08:21]: That’s awesome. I really like the idea of having that $1 a month price point for somebody to kind of get their feet wet with Drip just because, as Dharmesh had said, it’s the cheapium it’s not freemium. But it kind of forces them to actually pull out their credit card, too. It’s one step up from a free trial or from that free plan. I think MailChimp used to have, and they probably still do; they have that 2,000 subscriber limit on a free plan but they will put their branding and marketing on there. And then for $10 a month you can pay for their 500 subscriber option. But the one dollar a month plan, that’s interesting. I like the idea of it.

Rob: [08:55]: Very cool. So what are we talking about today?

Mike [08:58]: Today we’re talking about seven entrepreneurial blind spots. And the idea for this show actually came about because of the case study I’m putting together. And it made me think about what sorts of other blind spots people either are running into that are obvious to them after the fact and they look back and they say, “oh yeah, I should have known that,” or they talk themselves out of seeing it as a potential issue because they just weren’t thinking about it or weren’t taking a step back to kind of evaluate their situation. So I wanted to outline a couple different places where people might run into an area where they could run into potential issues down the road if they are not thinking about those things.

Rob [09:34]: And numero uno is?

Mike [09:37]: And numero uno is, being an entrepreneur is more about the journey, not the goals. And this one actually came to mind partially because of you selling Drip to Leadpages. And one of the things that kind of comes to mind is that most people say I’m going to build a business and I’m going to sell it and I’m going to make tons of money and then I’m going to walk away. There’s actually a couple of different things in addition to that.

Most people don’t think about the fact that they probably have to stick around for a little while. But if your whole goal is to sell the company, when you get to that point, what then? What meaning is there in your life? What is going to make you happy beyond that? Because if that was your whole goal, if you finally achieve that goal, then what? What is your life really about at that point? So I think it’s more about understanding that if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing then maybe you’re doing the wrong things. And that your business goals are probably pretty important but they don’t necessarily define who you are as a person either. It’s really about getting to a particular place, and enjoying a particular journey as opposed to the whole focus is getting to that goal.

Rob [10:35]: There was a study done once on – it was med students who were going through medical school. And they found the people who hated medical school but were just doing it for that goal – I’m going to become a doctor, I’m going to become a doctor. Like once I get out everything will be good. That those people were extremely unhappy once they became doctors. There was some correlation there. Whether they just didn’t belong there, it wasn’t something they enjoyed and they were really being forced to do it by their parents or by societal scripts, or whether they were just naturally never going to enjoy the journey and maybe once they became doctors they were like I’m just going to retire. I’ve just got to make enough money to retire. But there’s a correlation there.

At the same time this one is really hard for me to embody. I am not a journey person. I’m very much goal-oriented and I would say, of the entrepreneurs I know, the vast majority, 80-90%, are goal-oriented. And so that’s why this is such a big blind spot. I have to remind myself constantly to take a deep breath and look around and say, these are the good ole days. You’re going to look back on this time right now in a few years and you’re going to be like, “man. that was awesome.” And truth be told I look back to the very early days of Drip with Derek hacking away on code. And he and I used to sit out behind my house by this koi pond and hammer away like that. I remember it just seemed so romantic and so fun, but it was tough work. I mean it was like we had no revenue and you don’t know if this thing is going to succeed. And then Derek and I in the office together, once we finally got an office, man I bet those days were cool. But it’s like they were fun and I remember then but, man, it was a lot of hard work. And there was a lot of stress of like is this thing ever going to take off. And then each step of the way, once the team got to about four or five, I remember starting to tell people this in like team meetings where like this is a really good time, drink this in, because being at this size, it’s a unique step. No company can stay this way forever. Drip’s not in this competitive space, not going to be able to stay like this. So we’re either going to get big, or we’re going to get acquired. We kind of talked or raise funding or something.

And there were different options there but, I think that is the one piece of advice that I would give based on this. About enjoying the journey; is just take time once a week to look around and think, boy we have it pretty good here. Like you’re not slogging away in a cubical for someone else, depressed at your day job, working a nine to five. To me that is the alternative to what we’re doing. And even though what we’re doing is and can be stressful, we are in control of it. In fact, even better advice; I was talking to Ruben Gamez from Bidsketch – this is seven-eight months ago, and I was like kind of burning out on stuff and slogging through email. There’s stuff that piles up. There was HR stuff I was handling; I mean just kind of everything. And he said why are you hating this, you’re the founder. You’re in control of this, make it change. Change this and make it fun, because that’s why we started our own companies; is so that we don’t have to feel this way. And it’s like sometimes it just takes someone to tell you that. To kind of snap you out of it and be like what do I have to do to snap out of this? And that’s actually when I hired Dawn, the assistant who then took a bunch of that stuff off of my plate.

Mike [13:39]: The second entrepreneurial blind spot is that estimates for anything that you’ve never done are going to be wildly inaccurate. And I think in my experience – and this is more anecdotal than anything else – but anything that you try to put an estimate on that you’ve never done before is probably going to take something like five times longer than you think it will and it will probably cost twice as much. And that’s true whether it is development costs, you’re outsourcing things, or trying to build a marketing campaign and you’re trying to determine what’s going to be your cost per acquisition for advertising campaigns; something along those lines. And anything that’s outside of your direct control is probably going to take at least two times longer than you think it is. Even if you’re trying to be a little bit cautious about what those estimates are you’re still probably going to be wildly inaccurate because you don’t necessarily have a good understand of what to expect when you’re trying to put those estimates together.

Rob [14:27]: So when I estimate and I was writing code, I got to be pretty good at it because I used to do it for fixed price projects. And so I got to where I would overestimate just enough that I was pretty accurate as long as something crazy didn’t come up. But that one took years of having bad estimates and having stuff not working. And so, for most people who don’t have to develop that skill, it’s just never going to happen and that’s okay. But, you then have to realize it, that you’re just kind of always going to underestimate. The problem is a lot of us just look at a high level thing and we say the feature is to add a page that does X. And into an existing app, if you just throw an estimate out – you can say “oh, it’s going to be a few days, it’ll be done in the next few days.” But until you sit there and even if you take five minutes or ten minutes on a piece of paper and you actually think through what are the database calls or is there anything beyond just some basic crud that I already have ORM for? Or maybe I’ll have to write custom sequel because that one table is big and I need to work around an index. Or maybe that UI’s going to be a little tricky. As soon as you start sketching it out it’ll start popping up of like man, that’s going to take a lot longer than I thought.

Because I remember in the old days someone throwing out I can build – a typical Web app, Web pages, it’ll take me like two to three hours. But then when I actually watch – because I was kind of being a product manager – it was a tech lead at the time. So I was coding and also looking at other people’s productivity. It did only take the person two to three hours to hack things together. But then it was almost double that in the discussion of what the page should do; going back and forth with the end user, in essence. There was kind of project management time; it was like circling back because there was a bug, so then you’d need another 30 minutes. Then there was CSS browsering incompatibility issues.

So just on and on and on. And it would literally be two to three times what just that initial two to three estimate was accurate in a sense, but it wasn’t the whole cost of building that page. The real cost was more like a full day’s work; six to nine hours. That’s where I think if you’re really going to bare bones estimate things, I think at two to three times multiple tends to be what I think about. Unless you find that you developed a skill and are pretty in tune with how long it’s going to take you to code it. It’s a lot harder to estimate for someone else. And I’d try not to do that unless I know them really well. Like Derek and I will estimate stuff together and I will throw out how long do you think it’ll take; two days or whatever? And we’ve worked together long enough that I know how he works. But if you don’t know someone, like a contractor, you’re going to be off by ridiculous valuations.

Mike [16:47]: I was just going to point that out; that all the examples and stuff that you were just talking about were all for your own estimates. But when you’re doing an estimate for somebody else, they’re skills are different than yours so your estimates or assumptions about what they do and don’t know, whether it comes to technology itself or familiarity with the code base, are going to be just off. It’s really hard to be accurate when trying to do an estimate for somebody else.

Rob [17:12]: In fact, I try to avoid estimating for other people. And if I were to have someone doing a project and they were developing or working on it, I would sit with them and help figure out what all the components were, and then I would ask them to estimate. And then, probably sanity check it again; like “what do I think I could build this in?” And walk it through to get an idea. Because, again, most developers estimate too low and that’s a problem. If they’re too high, you can talk about bringing them down. But typically they’re going to be too low. And I would almost encourage people to increase it at that point so we could get a more realistic view of when stuff will be delivered. Because that can create stress, right? That makes a journey not fun when you think something’s going to take a week and it takes two or three weeks and you’ve committed to someone or you’ve even committed mentally to yourself and then you just feel behind the whole time.

Mike [17:53]: That’s actually part of the data migration that I’m going through. I thought that it would take me a week, possibly two at the most. And here I am, almost four weeks later and it’s just kind of getting to the point where we’re pushing it out. So it sucks to be in that position but there’s only so much you can do.

This actually leads us a little bit into number three, which is you can only be productive on one or two things at a time within a given time period. By a given time period I mean over the course of several days or several weeks, not really within an hour or two. Because you really can’t multitask very well within that hour or two. But if you’re trying to do an estimate and you say this is going to take four weeks, that’s not the only thing that you’re going to be working on during that time. So that context switching back and forth between, let’s say, coding activities and marketing activities, there’s a cost associated with that. And it’s very difficult to be completely done with a particular task and then move onto the next because there’s always things that come back. There’s always bug fixes or things that need to be tweaked. Whether it’s a marketing campaign and just text on a page, or whether it’s actual code and a customer decides that “I need this to work a little bit differently, can you go in and fix this?” Well, if you’ve already moved on to working on your marketing campaigns, then you’re getting dragged back into the coding. And the reverse can happen as well.

So it’s really hard to just completely be done with one specific thing and move on. Those lines in the sand are very difficult to draw. So if you have two sets of things that you’re working on, one of them is maybe four weeks of coding and another one is four weeks of marketing tasks, chances are good it’s probably going to take you closer to ten or 12 weeks in order to finish both of those. Even though individually, the estimates are only about four weeks each.

Rob [19:26]: I think this is a type of multitasking. There’s kind of micro-multitasking, which is where you’re just sitting there and you’re checking Twitter and you’re checking your email and you’re bouncing around and you’re trying to write a blog post and you’re doing 20 things at once. Then there’s this macro-multitasking, which is what you’re talking about where you have too many high-level projects going on at once. And it is just chaos. There’s a couple things that I’ve started to do. You have to be a little bit in control to be able to do this. If you’re an employee and people are just throwing stuff at you all the time and you can’t control it, then it makes it harder. But I’ve tried to be extremely deliberate about picking what is – like you said, one or two – the highest priority things, and really digging into those. And then wrapping them up until they’re finished.

And it depends on the length of these projects. I mean if you’re trying to write code and do marketing it is hard because those are both ongoing things. There’s always more code to write, there’s always more marketing to do. But if you break it up into projects where like maybe for one-week marketing is just split test on the home page, and then it’s testing out some Twitter ads to a landing page, then those are kind of smaller projects and they may take a while to reach fruition or for you to be able to determine if they’re successful or not.

But as a founder it is tempting to start the split test, start running ads and then be like “wow, well I have some free time this afternoon so let me start two more projects like that.” But then once they do start bringing results in, it’s too many things to monitor. So it’s almost like don’t start that next thing that’s going to take a while. If you do have two hours that afternoon that’s free, don’t start another project. Instead flip back and either hammer out a blog post if you think you can. Like do something that you can start and finish in that amount of time. Something like a blog post I could see just taking an hour to sit down in front of a notebook and think about all the really good ideas. Almost take just a quick mini check-in. Not quite a retreat, but just a mini check-in of what are some things that we should be doing, what are our priorities, and do a high-level check-in like that. Or, hammer through email or just something that, again, you can start and finish in that time frame.

Mike [21:21]: The fourth entrepreneurial blind spot is being able to maintain your objectivity. And this revolves around being able to be objective about the ideas that you have or being able to question your assumptions. It’s very easy to fall in love with a particular idea that you have and assume that you’re correct rather than intentionally undertaking fact-finding missions. I think a popular name for this is confirmation bias. But I think it also involves some psychological components because everyone wants to be right. It’s not so much that you are looking specifically for confirmation of what your assumptions are, but you want to be right.

I think that those two things intertwine very closely, but I don’t think that they’re exactly the same thing. But the key point here is that you know that you’re no longer objective about something when you start to become defensive about the points that you’re making. So if you’re explaining how a product works or you’re working with a customer and they give you a bit of feedback, if you go on the defensive at any point during that conversation then you know that you’re no longer objective about it. And you really need to start taking into consideration the fact that they’re giving you feedback and you’re trying to be defensive about it. “Oh no, you should be doing this. This is how you would do it.”

There’s times where that’s an appropriate response, and then there’s also times where you need to take a look at what they’re telling you and realize that they may very well be representative of a large number of other people, and you’re so close to it that you can’t see that. You are seeing all these other possibilities, but because they’re seeing it for the first time they don’t understand it and you need to look for ways to help them understand it as opposed to trying to change that person’s mind.

Rob [22:52]: When we talk about how founders need to embrace failure or they need to learn to make mistakes, this is one of those hard ones. Because admitting that your idea doesn’t work or being open to it not working is a scary thing to do. And it’s really similar to feeling like you’ve failed. Especially if you’ve spent six months trying to come up with ideas and then you finally latch onto one and it seems like a great idea and then you get a ways in and kind of just bursts. It’s tough to admit that. So I agree. I think this is a blind spot many of us have, including myself. I found myself latching on too long to certain ideas.

Mike [23:28]: The fifth blind spot is around delegation and failing to understand that delegation is not the same as abdicating your responsibility for something. If you are delegating a task to somebody you’re still responsible for making sure that those tasks get done. You’ve simply become the manager for those tasks as opposed to the implementer. And you can go and delegate important tasks to other people. There’s a lot of people, myself included sometimes, that feel that if something is really important then you need to be the one to do it. And that’s not always true. There’s lots of things that you can delegate that are still important things.

One example of that is the bookkeeping. I mean that stuff has to be accurate. And you want to know how your business is doing and how much money’s coming in and what your ROI on the different customers is, and then different marketing initiatives you have. But you don’t necessarily need to be the ones doing those. And if you’re training somebody to delegate those tasks to, especially for small tasks, a lot of people will push that off because it doesn’t seem like there is enough ROI there to hand somebody a task when you’re going to spend almost as much time training them to do that particular task as it would for you to just do yourself. And people will quickly fall into this trap of doing everything themselves because it’s going to take too long to delegate that to somebody else.

And the reality is that you want to hire people for their decision-making ability, not necessarily for their skills. You want to be able to explain to them this is a high level of what I’m looking to have done, go do this and then use an iterative approach to have that come back to you. And you guide the output as opposed to dictating it or explaining every little nuance to it.

Rob [24:57]: It’s a learned skill. You’re not going to be very good at it when you start. I was terrible. And you got to dive in because you just aren’t going to be able to accomplish everything that you need to on your own. Even when I was solo and I had no employees and I had these tiny little apps doing a thousand, two, three, four thousand a month, I had VAs responding to emails; I had folks doing design; I had many contractors that worked with me. And again, when I first started I was terrible at. You get better at two things, one you get better at hiring so you get better people, and two, you get better at delegating. So it just becomes a virtuous cycle.

Mike [25:34]: The sixth blind spot, which I think afflicts a lot of people, is that you’re going to base the majority of your decisions on incomplete data. And there’s lots of different ways that this can manifest itself. It can either be in coding estimates or trying to figure out what you should do for a marketing campaign. And sometimes this leads to procrastination because you’re not really sure what you should do. There’s this desire to be right or to avoid being wrong. And very often that leads to making no decision at all because you want to make the best decision but you don’t have enough information to make that decision. So rather than making any decision you do nothing.

And this is very similar, I think, to the analysis-paralysis, where people have too many decisions to make and they don’t know what to do so they don’t do anything. But I think that fear of a particular outcome can also lead you away from finding the truth about a particular situation, and you’re not necessarily going to realize it. Or it’s sitting there in the back of your mind and it’s weighing on you and maybe it’s a source of stress and you just simply don’t do anything about it. I think a prime example of this is delaying talking to your customers because you’re embarrassed about a question that you’re going to ask them before you’ve even asked the question. And I think that’s probably a major factor here is that you don’t necessarily know what they’re going to say. You may have an idea of it, but you absolutely have to find out what those people have to say. They may surprise you. It may very well be good dues. But if you don’t ask those questions then what you’re doing is you’re really just making a lot of assumptions here.

And those decisions are going to be difficult to make if you don’t go out and find the data. And if you don’t have enough data you have to go ahead and make a decision anyway because these decisions are subject to change. And a lot of that change is outside of your control. There’s things that will happen that maybe you make a decision today, something radical goes on tomorrow and maybe Google indexes a bunch of things and your entire search engine strategy goes out the window. You’re going to have to change how you do things. And that whole thing is outside of your control, so waiting a few extra days, weeks or months is not going to make a difference. Google is going to move forward with whatever they’re going to do and you have to do the best you can with the information that you have.

Rob [27:32]: I really like this one. This was something my dad told me probably 20 years ago. He was a project manager for a large electrical contractor and I was kind of coming up on that path. And he told me very early on the majority of his job is making decisions with incomplete data. And so I think that if you’re listening to this and you haven’t had the experience of having to make a lot of decisions with incomplete data, or when you do you agonize over them and it takes you days, hours, weeks to make them, really think about how you can get faster at it. And the way that I improved upon this, this skill, because I was terrible at it at first and I would get paralyzed over things like – honestly we’d go to order pizza and I would sit there for like ten minutes trying to figure out which pizza I’d wanted.

And so there’s a few types of decisions, right? There’s really important decisions that are hard or impossible to change later. Those are the ones that you do need to agonize over and you need to get as much data as you can. Whether that means further testing, further conversations with customers, you really need to go all out to get that. The other decisions, the ones that are either like not that important like ordering pizza or setting what color the font should be in something, or the decisions that are easy to change later. So that might be important, but you can always change them if things go sideways. Both of those you should make very quickly.

And the skill is in learning to identify which of those three categories it fits into. And then recognizing that as you’re making the decisions. Again, I think it’s kind of a habit or a muscle that you develop to where by default think “boy, can I change this decision later?” And if I can, even if it’s important I just got to make the best one I can given the information I have. And that’s kind of been my mantra because I, personally, as more of a Type A person and someone who is – as I classically said, I’m kind of risk adverse and don’t like to fail and don’t like to make wrong decisions, this was something I really had to break myself out of a habit of because you move too slow if you agonize over every decision.

Mike [29:21]: And the seventh entrepreneurial blind spot is that making a mistake doesn’t mean that something isn’t ever going to work. It means that it didn’t work for you in that particular situation. And what I’ve seen is that if you look around at the entrepreneurial landscape there’s a lot of advice out there. And general advice is not always applicable to every situation. There’s always edge cases, there’s always exceptions. And I say always, I probably should say almost always exceptions and almost always edge cases. Because there are certain situations where that advice is simply not applicable. And it could be that the situation that you’re in, or the business that you have, it’s just simply not going to work for your particular situation.

That said, assuming that a piece of advice is going to work for you in your situation without testing it is often a mistake. You have to iterate through it, you have to make sure that it is applicable to what you’re doing and how your business is operating. And it’s common to take a look at something that you’ve tried and if it didn’t work out just assume that it’s never going to work for you in the future. And I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t go back and do that again, but at the very least it should be something that you consider rather than summarily dismiss as we tried that and it didn’t work. Go back and take a look at the things; what is it that you did? Is there any new information you have? Because going back to what we said before, you’re making a lot of decisions based on incomplete data. And if you’ve done something, now you have more data and you can take a look back at that and say, “do I know more about this situation then I did before, and are there things that I can change or that I can tweak, and make another try at this and do better with it?”

Rob [30:51]: I always take general advice as a rule of thumb that then if at all possible to test and verify I do, like if we have the resources or if it’s something that’s easy to test and verify, I do. Sometimes you don’t. I mean you have to make so many decisions. Let’s say you’re just launching your app, you’re worried about pricing; you’re worried about positioning; you’re worried about copy; you’re worried about getting the code out and tested. There’s so much to do. You can’t test everything all at once. You just have to, at a certain point, email your list and see what works and kind of manually fix it. But for that, like when we launched Drip and when I’ve launched any product, I use the rules of thumb that I’ve developed over time.

And it doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for your case because you haven’t tested it yet. But it’s better than nothing. It’s better than a wild guess to at least start with some common knowledge. But then thinking as I have the resources, how much of this can I test? And if you’re going to test this stuff is to look at the high-level stuff first. You start with big changes in headlines or body copy, or big changes in pricing. There’s a lot you can do, especially if you even have a decent amount of traffic. And I think it’s really important to remember that that’s why all the podcasts and the conference talks and the blog post and everything, everything you read worked in one case, or maybe two cases. And even if it was a study, and let’s say it had 100 different SaaS apps were looked at, it’s still probably going to be more of like an average or a watered down version. And it still may not be the best practice for you. That’s the experienced marketers, the experienced founders that you’ll hear from that will tend to say this has been my experience but test in your own instance.

So to recap, today we talked about seven entrepreneurial blind spots. The first one was being an entrepreneur is about the journey, not the goals. The second is estimates for anything you’ve never done will be wildly inaccurate. And I would say even for things you have done, can be wildly inaccurate. The third is that you can only be productive on one to two things at a time. Fourth is maintaining your objectivity. Fifth is delegation is not the same as abdicating responsibility. The sixth is you’ll probably make the majority of your decisions based on incomplete data. The seventh is that mistakes don’t mean something doesn’t work. It means it didn’t work for you in that instance.

If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690. Or email us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control,” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups, and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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One Response to “Episode 299 | 7 Entrepreneurial Blind Spots”

  1. Loved this episode. Keep up the good work.

    The first “blind spot” is so important.
    Enjoy the journey. It’s not all about the goals.