Entrepreneurs always look for the right recipe to increase the odds of success.
Steve Blank was probably one of the “recipe” pioneers as he started the lean startup movement. Before the lean movement, I would argue that Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm, published in 1991, was instrumental in trying to think differently about startups.
Since then, we have created a lot of content, and startup founders have so much to choose from; books, blog posts, podcasts, and software tools are available to plan better and create better startups.
Besides, an entire ecosystem has blossomed to support entrepreneurs, and countless accelerators and mentors are marketing their road to heaven. They try to leverage all these tools/methodologies and promote lean and agile techniques, and countless canvas and methods.
Does it work?
Let me start by saying that startups are overwhelmed and confused with the profusion of support available. It’s also hard to pick the proper support as the ecosystem is full of charlatans, people who never built any startups and are constructing businesses based upon other people’s theories. Most of the time, founders are faced with conflicting advice, which creates even more confusion. Last, many initiatives are not well-minded as they leverage the startup buzz for their own good (think startup contest).
I give my point of view on this topic here: https://medium.datadriveninvestor.com/mentoring-sucks-be6e7a3110af
Let’s separate two things, tools/methodologies and structures leveraging it with accelerators/mentors.
The accelerator model is reaching a dead end. The big ones are going to be left standing, YC, 500, and Techstar. Let’s face it, startups go into an accelerator because they cannot raise money, are happy to get a small check (sometimes nothing), a desk, and some support. They hope to find a network of investors to raise money. So the work is to build a deck, pitch, and raise. It works for a few, but not for the majority. Fundamentally the mindset behind the accelerator process is wrong. Instead of helping build solid startups, they end up putting lipstick on what they get, hoping to make it sexy for investors. Very few have the right investors’ network, very few are up to date on the latest recipes, the end is near.
Accelerators that will survive will become pre-seed investors with a fantastic investors’ network and mold the startup to raise a seed round. Pre-seed funds will take the space and offer support in addition to the first check.
Mentors bring expertise. The issue with expertise is that it creates a framework of convictions that the mentor wants to bring into the startup. Also, if multiple mentors are working with the startup, conflicting advice is often given; go B2B and go B2C is a classic. I am very cautious about this as I firmly believe that a mentor should never give advice but rather make the entrepreneur think to find his/her own answers.
Good mentors are gold but hard to find.
If you run a SWOT analysis, create a customer persona, model your customer experience, size your market bottom-up, or create a business model canvas, does it increase your overall understanding of what path to take to succeed? In other words, is it a useful exercise or are we wasting everybody’s time?
It certainly helps founders think, and it’s never a bad thing. However, I have often seen founders do it and be done with it. Are you not one of these founders that build a business model canvas, felt good about it, and then put it in a drawer to never reopen the drawer?
We also try to put too much in the founders’ heads at once. They drown under too much advice, not all good, and overwhelming. Don’t start with an MVP, love the problem not the solution, define the first target, think about monetization now, position competition, size your market, model the customer experience, think about the right metrics,… Stop! Why do all that?
What happens is founders try it, for real, and then give up forever. What’s driving the day-to-day is what founders care about. So, right after designing a beautiful business canvas or listening to a great masterclass, founders go back to the serious stuff, building a product and trying to sell it.
What is wrong with that picture is that most methodologies/tools and some mentors/accelerators help guide founders. But they are perceived as theoretical and often disconnected from reality.
So on one side, we have a wealth of expertise not necessarily leveraged the right way, and on the other side, we have founders doing things the same way with often the same results.
That’s where theory does not connect to reality. Exercises that are disconnected from trying to improve the startup reality are just exercises.
Theory is thinking, and practice is doing.
“He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast”
Leonardo Da Vinci.
How to reconnect doing and strategic thinking?
We need to provide something new where collective intelligence is leveraged to help founders improve reality practically. I have worked on a solution for the last 8 months, to propose a framework, a new way of learning, to solve this conundrum. I tried to respect the following rules:
- It needs to be cheap (no equity).
- It needs to be a new format, small-time commitment (founders have long days), online mainly.
- It needs to bring a holistic perspective, as connecting topics creates understanding.
- It needs to be small bites to swallow. Trying to absorb everything there is to know is ludicrous. There is a sequence.
- It needs to be pragmatic, goals-driven, and impactful. We learn by doing instead of listening.
- It needs to encourage peer-to-peer learning to create accountability.
Cheers, and wish me luck!