I can rip any business idea to shreds.
Take NetFlix: The costs of inventory logistics, millions of non-technical customers, the Postal Service, and loss from wear and delivery will make profit impossible with a reasonable retail price. Movie-watchers are accustomed to the immediate gratification of browsing and selecting. People will copy movies, pissing off suppliers. Blockbuster will duplicate the model and undercut the price, combining the convenience of home delivery with the equally convenient option of store browsing and returns.
Terrible idea that could never work. Except that now Blockbuster (who did copy it) is bankrupt and NetFlix turned a profit of $60m last quarter, which is more than Blockbuster was doing in its heyday.
I suppose if your goal in life is to be right, you should bet against every startup, certainly against any novel ideas. You’ll be right much more often than wrong. Congratulations. You’re right, and utterly useless.
The goal of the entrepreneur is not to be “right.”
It’s to construct with humility. To listen and talk simultaneously. To infect customers and employees with your peculiar disease. To live to fight another day. To acknowledge being wrong before the fault turns fatal.
To realize that even if a particular venture is a “failure,” it never is. I’ve never met a “failed” entrepreneur who doesn’t proudly declare they’re better off now: developed skills they never thought possible, learned what makes them excited to get up in the morning, came face-to-face with their fundamental limitations, and now more confident than ever in what they’re capable of, regardless of the future shape of their career.
The Lean Startup movement also values learning and experience over “being right,” specifically casting this concept as “running experiments.” And the great Francis Crick (Nobel-winner for discovery of DNA) posthumously agrees with that analogy:
“The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.”
Real science is mostly being wrong, but staying vigilant and honest enough to continue being wrong until you’re not wrong. So it is with dating. Or startups.
The problem with armchair criticism is it’s so easy. Which was easier — my rant on the perils of the Startup Genome Project or the effort in collecting and analyzing the data for that project?
Of course it’s easy. Is it even theoretically possible for the Startup Genome Project to not have holes for me to poke at? Does that really make the project dubious? I stand firm that my criticism was sound, but… so what?
Designers want to be “right,” but have to temper that with analytics data. The true masters are those who embrace metrics as an incontrovertible goal while also being creative enough to retain the aesthetics, creativity, and philosophy which makes their craft an art.
Programmers want to be “right,” but have to temper that with getting things built and shipped, even before it’s ready, even with bugs, willing to build features pulled by the market instead of pushed by internal rationalization.
Backseat advisors and pundits (like me) want to be “right,” but have to temper that with the more important goal of inspiring people to be a better version of themselves instead of indoctrinating them with our own biases and experiences.
But as a founder, you still need to listen with half an ear. Sometimes you’ve been blind. I still resist opposition to my ideas, more than I know I should. I still hate being wrong.
But it has to be possible to be able negate you, otherwise you are certainly pig-headed. As the CEO of WP Engine I feel that most days are filled with more contradictions than construction — balancing customer needs with internal costs, following our nose against what competitors are doing, or staying true to our “vision” while also flexing as we learn what the market wants and even what we want for ourselves.
It’s easy to criticize but it’s just as easy for you to dismiss criticism without consideration. That’s equally hazardous.
How do you tell the difference between useless and constructive criticism? Let’s continue in the comments.