This is a big announcement for me. I’m quitting my full-time startup efforts, even though I still have at least eight months of runway remaining. I’d like to share with you my reasons and my new plans.
The book that I should have read a year ago
I came across the book Lean B2B. Usually I zip right past startup books and don’t think twice about even reading the cover. However, any book about trying to apply the lean philosophy to B2B immediately has my attention.
The book’s site offers the first six chapters for free. I wolfed them down last Monday. Every single one of my hard-earned lessons showed up in those six chapters. Every. Single. Lesson. I felt incredibly validated reading these lessons in somebody else’s book rather than my own blog. I learned about B2B things like credibility and customer development and market validation the hard way, making mistakes following normal B2C lean tactics and tweaking them to make it work for B2B, and all these lessons were all in the book. I could have just read this book and saved myself months of runway and immeasurable frustration and anxiety.
That was the good of the book. Now here’s the bad. I could only point to half of the free preview and say that I learned those lessons from experience. The other half was completely new to me. I’ve been at this journey for six months almost, and I was very likely going to learn even more through painful and expensive trial and error. How much more runway would I burn making those mistakes?
Worse, those were just the first six chapters. Those chapters covered only up to finding early adopters. There were still twelve more chapters to go. Personally, I’ve only gone so far as to find early adopters. I didn’t know 50% of the first six chapters, but I probably don’t know close to 100% of the last twelve. How much more runway would I burn making these mistakes as well?
The unknown unknowns suddenly became known unknowns. I was confident handling the unknown unknowns. These newly known unknowns are different. They’re too big and formidable for me to handle.
I’ve written a few times about how I think market validation should happen while earning income with a job. The reason is that the entire process is long and asynchronous. There’s nothing gained by spending your full-time efforts validating a market. You might as well be earning a salary while doing it.
Immediately after reading the first six chapters of Lean B2B, I saw that validating a market full-time is actually destructive, not just unnecessary. You’re constantly pressured to build sooner and earn money sooner, even before properly validating a niche. However, validating a niche must precede building if you want to succeed. I caught myself preparing to build for a validated broader market, but not for a specific validated niche. The pressure to make money is real, even with a good runway, and I finally learned that it could have destroyed any chance of success I had.
I stopped and reflected. Do I have a valid niche? No, not yet. Okay, so when will I validate one? I don’t know. It could take a while. I need to be patient, something my runway doesn’t allow.
This is not my dream
Later that same Monday, I talked with one of my other friends also working on his startup attempt. He told me that he was thinking about leaving behind all his work and getting a job. The market for the type of work he enjoys has been booming, and companies are contacting him to do the exact type of work that he loves.
Me: “But what about your startup attempt?”
My friend: “These types of jobs are exactly what I want to do. Yeah, I was excited about starting a company at first, but not anymore. My dream isn’t really to start a company like yours is.”
That statement was a reality slap. My current journey has been more a market validation journey than a company building journey. Is indefinite market validation my dream? No.
As I learned more and more, I realized I’m underprepared to start a B2B company. I’ve made plenty of mistakes so far and would love to do things differently. Maybe I should actually take a step back and prepare another approach.
So in sum, I learned that my uphill battle is worse than previously calculated. My miscalculation was such a blunder that I very well could have burned the rest of my runway not accomplishing anything meaningful.
I am deciding to no longer go full-time with my startup attempt. You’re always an underdog when you’re trying to start up, but I went from feeling like an underdog with some chance to win to feeling like I have no chance to win at all anymore.
My problem is that I have too many weaknesses inhibiting me from being a successful B2B entrepreneur. Living on a runway before validating a niche is a weakness. Having no domain expertise is a weakness. My decision is to postpone my full-time startup effort and address my weaknesses first.
My plan to address my weaknesses
I’m not sure yet. I’m dedicating a lot of time into figuring this out. There are several things I can do to further stack the cards in my favor.
One is to continue improving as an engineer. It was a huge advantage to me that engineering was an afterthought rather than a bottleneck. However, I was only prototyping. I built only primitive iterations of my projects. More production-worthy software will require stronger engineering. I can continue to improve as an engineer.
Another is to get more domain expertise. I need to become an expert. There are two challenges in wanting to become an expert: deciding a field in which to become an expert and gaining knowledge and experience in that field.
Another is to continue searching for and validating market niches. It’s unlikely for all the stars to align, but this one is most essential. I don’t think you can start validating niche markets too early.
Other than these broad ideas, I don’t yet have a plan. Deciding on my specifics will take some time.
What will happen to this blog?
I’ll still be blogging three times per week.
I have plenty of lessons which I haven’t written about yet. I’ll be figuring out how to implement my plans to increase my likelihood for success. I’ll be sharing everything I learn with my readers. If you don’t want to miss any of my hard-won lessons, please join my mailing list below!
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