Startup founders, as with all those who are trying to break new ground, are faced with a difficult choice: stay true to the core of your idea, and maybe some folks won’t get it, or broaden out to appeal to a wider audience, and risk spreading yourself too thin. Finding the right answer was a process of exploration.
Committing so much time & effort – as well as sacrificing so much of your personal life and maybe even your career – to a startup is not an easy thing to do. You need to believe that, in time, it will be worthwhile. You need to be confident in your idea. But being confident in an idea is not the same as inspiring confidence in others. No matter how good your idea, and how well you know it, if you can’t explain it and ultimately translate it into a business, your company is basically dead in the water.
Over the course of my startup incubation phase, I and my cohort of new founders were challenged daily to practice our elevator pitches. Some got it right day one and stuck to that message. Others gradually refined the core message until they got to wider acceptance. Me, I struggled with it for months, changing it every day to see what got traction. This pulled me in a lot of directions.
I started with the core of an idea which was to help make corporate IT systems more effective and accessible to employees so they could get on with doing their jobs, free from the need to adapt to or compensate for ineffective technology. However, coming from the corporate world, I struggled to explain this in everyday language, and used too much IT jargon. People didn’t get it. People thought it was something else. So I followed the people. And the more people I met the more I started to describe (and create) a product that was drifting further and further from my core idea.
But, it turns out, this is what being in a startup is all about: the freedom to explore, to experiment, to try things out and see what fits. To go to the outer limits of what my idea might be and peer over the ledge. That process of exploration, balanced with my inner drive to move forward and get it right, helped me find my way back to the core. As my Irish friends and family would say, sometimes you need to travel to really appreciate home!
So what have I learned? Listen to your inner voice. Trust your instinct. Stay true to your core idea. But don’t be afraid to explore, to take a risk, to push out beyond your comfort zone. There you will find what you don’t want to be, what you don’t want to do, and that will bring you back to the centre.
Go deep (on everything!) and then go home.