Startup Virtue: Practice Patience or Fail Fast?

by Stamatis N. Astra, Founder & CEO at PhotOral

We entrepreneurs are wired to get things done. We are constantly chased by the burn rate, the pitch deadline, the release countdown and the launch date. We must say what we are doing and then simply do it. The latest mantra for startups is a lean and mean methodology, where eager angels can throw in a pittance of seed money to test your idea.

Now with the flood of cloud and mobile apps, we should throw our idea to the masses and prove its demand.  Sprinkle in the accelerators, a boot camp that preps founders to be ready for an inflection point, and a demo day in 3-6 months. Young founders are trained to set aggressive deadlines, try their idea, and if it doesn’t work, pivot. The phrase “There is always the enterprise” is so often used, someone should trademark it. Get to market, get the revenue, get more features, get more updates, get more products…and do it faster than your dot-com predecessors. Indeed, “Fail Fast” is not only a badge of honor among founders but an expectation among investors.

Enter Fail Fast’s pragmatic cousin: “Patience.” Seasoned CEOs (not twenty-something founders) who have built lasting companies are only too happy to tell you: “…It takes time”…time to define the market, and your customers; time to give trial and error a chance and your product to breathe. Oh and that distribution deal? That’ll take you twice as long as you projected. “The average overnight success takes ten years” is another overused phrase that someone should trademark. Any long term investor (btw, they all claim to be long term, but they are not) will warn you not to cut corners; sign —do not fail —on the first deal, so your second deal is bigger. It always seems that people who preach patience have, already, money and success. Or is it the other way around? Might the reason they are now successful be because they were once patient?

So what’s a founder to do? Do you go fast, overbook yourself, reply to every email pronto, push the deadline, ask for more cash now and push all projects into high gear? Or, do you just take pause? Ultimately, what separates the one hit wonders from their titanic elders, is the ability to execute fast in “what matters” and go long on “what builds value.” We can define “what matters” as what your customers and your investors can see and touch. Fail fast on the common sense “stuff”…show it to them, let them touch it and play, critique and moan. But do engage them! Remarkably, common sense is very uncommon. And, be patient on the value “stuff.” Be patient on the valuation, the distribution deal and the product roadmap. Be patient on getting “real customers” to sign them up and use the product. Take a slow, small step, so the next one can be bigger. As Yogi Berra said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” or, as I like to say: be patient…fast!

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