Finding the entrepreneur

I make entrepreneurs honest. Yesterday I wished that, instead of offering slots in the Thrill Mill accelerator as a result of pitches by a team for a particular idea, we could just pick by interviewing the people to discover if they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. This doesn’t mean that the ideas that they present are bad. Far from it, some of the ideas may be great. My point is that it’s hard to tell because they are so early stage that no one can know for sure. It’s a guess at best. A guess as to whether they have discovered an actual opportunity, versus a good idea. To find and build a business opportunity, the lead individual has to have the heart of an entrepreneur – to get from here to there, from concept to business.

During the intensive Entrepreneurship @ Thrill Mill class that I am teaching to 13 early stage teams, we have spent the first half of the six weeks in customer discovery. The problem is that since they all came in to the program with an idea, most of the teams are wedded to that idea. Getting them to jump off that ledge to one of customer discovery is a painful process. I have to beat them up enough to get them to see that their focus cannot be on product or technology (not yet), but must be on understanding the problem that they are trying to solve. Babs bashing this group calls it!

I have to do more than talk about customers and customer discovery, hypothesis testing, validation. I have to catch them, in real time, not understanding, and help them to make a correction in their thinking. This is not even a pivot. It’s a pre-pivot! To get to customer understanding, they must leave their comfort zone, conduct many customer and stakeholder interviews, and analyze the responses they get. As a class, we’ll make them share their learnings with us in the team share portion of each class session. And I will not them be dishonest in this process. Neither will their peers who are in the same Thrill Mill cohort.

The team has to solve a real problem. Mostly, I see that these early stage teams look at the problem through their eyes – the eyes of the product developer – rather than through the eyes of the customer. I tell them to: “Put on the shoes, clothes and hats of their customers. You can’t just read about them on the internet, or theoretically know them. You have to BE them. You have to feel them, internalize their pain, their problems. See the world through their eyes. Only then do you know if they have a real problem, and if you can actually provide a solution.”

The resistance that I see from teams is not intentional. But they have never been pushed in this way before. The ones who will be successful – that will become entrepreneurs – are the ones who do more than listen. They absorb, they internalize; they go where they have not been before. Those are the coachable ones. I want to work with them! They may also put up a fight, stand their ground, insist, argue with me. That shows spunk and passion, both of which are good qualities.

These wantrepreneurs have to show stamina and persistence to drive to the next level with their concept on the way to being a real, fundable, value-creating business. They have to be able to take the bashing, and relish the fact that they are getting what few others will tell them: the truth.

  • FIND your customer.
  • ARTICULATE the problem.
  • DESIGN the solution.
  • KNOW your value proposition.
  • TEST all of the above.
  • AGAIN, please.

This is applying the scientific method to entrepreneurship. That’s entrepreneurial honesty. I make entrepreneurs honest.

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