A paradox of course correction

The perfectionist needs to be told to ship faster. Because not shipping or having exhausted yourself by the time you launch is fatal. There is a critical difference between polish and wasteful perfectionism. Polished is an app that looks good and works well. Perfectionism is refusing to launch until every single bug is fixed, rewriting and refactoring backend and frontend code just to make it look nicer or cleaner. It’s wasteful work because large parts of your app and infrastructure will get rewritten anyway. Why seek perfection in something you’ll inevitably tear down?

The hustler needs to be told that making a really good product takes time so just sit down and do the work. Because you can’t grow a product startup if you don’t have a good product[1]. The engineer needs to accept that if nobody knows your product exists you won’t have any customers. If nobody knows what you’re building you won’t get any feedback. Having to face zero signups after spending a year on your beta is so demoralizing you’ll likely give up.

The spendthrift needs to stop squandering money. It’s the runway[2] you spend. Everything takes longer than you think and many startups fail simply because they run out of money. The miser should try to be less cheap. Sometimes you have to spend money to push your startup forward[3].

These are just some examples, but I think you get the idea.

In order to survive you want to embrace conventional and boring choices in some areas, because conventional choices aren’t terminal mistakes by definition. That leaves you with unconventional bold choices in those areas where you want your startup to stand out. Founders tend to be unconventional people, but it’s hard to be only moderately and selectively contrarian. That’s a problem because being contrarian and wrong can easily kill your startup.

People who are at one extreme need to shoot for the other extreme in order adjust their behavior enough and end up somewhere in the middle. 10% adjustments don’t cut it when your initial position is completely wrong. Your position is wrong because you are predisposed to believe facts that reaffirm your beliefs. To counteract your blind spots try to overshoot your goal and you’ll end up closer to the middle, where you want to be. This is counter-intuitive!

When you already have a reasonable middle position on any of these issues the advice you read and act on doesn’t affect you much. After all, it’s the big mistakes in startups that kill you. If you can survive until you reach product/market fit (= awesome product and accelerating growth) you’ll be fine even if you get all the small stuff wrong. You just need to avoid the terminal mistakes. Tautological, I know, but still easy to forget.

That’s the paradox of course correction[4]: when you at the one extreme aim for the opposite extreme to end up in a moderate position. If you’re an engineer with an inclination to do zero marketing, try to overdo your marketing and maybe you’ll do barely enough.

[1] You can build a different kind of business, e.g. where you provide some kind of B2B service manually that you’ll automate later, after establishing a market need.

[2] Your runway is the time you have before you run out of money. The sooner you can cover your living expenses the better.

[3] We’re pretty bad at this, admittedly, and have a tendency to reinvent the wheel..

[4] If this is a known concept I don’t what it’s called.

You can follow us on Twitter @jdvhouten and @wcools and look for #80daystartup

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