Entrepreneurial Proverbs

I came across a really good post from a couple of years ago entitled Entrepreneurial Proverbs. Reminded me a bit of my own post on Product Management Axioms. (OK, enough of the gratuitous self-promotion).

Entrepreneurial Proverbs is a good selection of pithy sayings and brief explanations all related to startups and new businesses.

Here’s a few particularly good ones, but read the article for the descriptions and details.

  • Momentum builds upon itself
  • Pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone
  • Build what you know
  • Give people what they need, not what they say they need
  • Work only with people you like and believe in
  • Work only with people who like and believe in you, just naturally
  • Build the simplest thing possible
  • Test everything with real people
  • For investors, the product is nothing

There are actually about 30 of these in the article and it well worth a read.

Momentum builds upon itself is a good one. In physics, momentum is a vector, meaning that it has a magnitude AND a direction. This is true in business as well. Momentum can be good or bad depending on the direction you are heading and how fast you are heading there. And like big ship chugging through the water, it’s not always easy to change course to avoid problems. But, if you’re heading in the right direction, get to your destination as quickly and safely as possible.

Build what you know is another one I agree with. I’m a big proponent of having domain knowledge for whatever endeavour you embark on. Can you succeed with domain expertise? Certainly, but you’ll either have gained it along the way, or you’re really lucky.

For investors, the product is nothing is so true. Investors will invest in the people, not the product. For example, “friends and family” money is about people who trust you putting their dollars behind your idea. In most cases, they likely don’t understand the details of your endeavor, but they have faith in you. The same is true for VCs. Yes, they’ll look at the market and market opportunity, but a good opportunity with a bad management team is likely to get rejected. People invest in other people, and the more confidence they have in you, the more confidence they’ll have in your product, and in particular, your abilities to deal with the inevitable problems that appear along the way.

letter Here are a few more proverbs that I’d add to the list.

Failure is always an option — There cannot be success without failure, and there is nothing wrong with failing at something, IF you fail properly. Having a good idea, turning it from concept to product or service and executing well are necessary for success, but they are not sufficient. Sometimes external forces such as market conditions, general economic trends, competition, technical innovations or other factors your control can cause failure to happen. Don’t let your company catch Malcolm Crowe disease.

When in doubt, find out or leave it out — Software development is never a fully deterministic process. There are lots of unknowns to deal with, from technology to market needs to competitive threats. Usually, you’re learning as you’re building and the market landscape is constantly changing. There is a lot of pressure to add or include features “just in case”. But this can also be a death knell for small companies.

Adding functionality “just in case” is a sign that you don’t understand who you’re building for or what they will do with it. Granted, you never can know everything, but in this situation you have two options. Either get more information to validate the need, or if that is not possible, leave out the functionality. You can add it later (usually), and you can spend the resources on things that are definitely needed.

Good enough is not always good enough — This my sound contradictory to the “When in doubt…” proverb, but it’s not. There is a general rule that one should focus on making their product “good enough” for the objective it is meant to fulfill. And, in general, that general rule is true. 🙂 Make the thing work reasonably well, and people will use it.

But, in that “good enough” thinking lies a trap. What’s good enough today will not be good enough in the near future. What’s good enough for an industry giant is definitely not good enough for an upstart company. The playing field is not level and bar is not set at the same height for everyone. (Ouch….2 cliches in one sentence!) Don’t settle for “good enough”. Aim somewhat above that, and make your product memorable. Figure out how you can make your customers say “I gotta get me some of that!“, and you’ve set yourself ahead of most of your competitors.



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