Why You Should Not Be An Entrepreneur
One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself is, “Am I wasting my time?”
You should ask it during every business endeavor. Every relationship. Every job. Every class. Every time you are doing something immensely time consuming. Life is short.
In 2014 I started an on-demand medical company in San Francisco. The idea was to push a button, get a doctor or nurse practitioner at your door in under 1 hour. It was Uber for Medical.
Sounds promising, right? Wrong.
I burned 6 months, $10,000 and ended up failing. That six months could’ve easily turned into 6 years, but more importantly it should’ve been less than 6 weeks.
In December 2014, I started talking to a lot of friends about the idea. Some said it was a crazy idea, this was expected. Others said it was so obviously good that I had to do it. With that mixed bag of feedback, I decided it was worth finding out for myself.
My co-founder and I started talking to doctors, nurse practitioners and practices to sign them up to fulfill the appointments. After many rejections, we finally nailed a partnership with a practice that would allow us to use their medical professionals for the appointments. And just like that we had one side of a two sided marketplace ready to go.
Next, we needed to reach patients. So I asked my friends. They would say,
“Yeah, I’ll give it a try when I’m sick,” or “I don’t need it right now.”
I remember I was out with a good friend and he mentioned he was sick the other week.
“Why didn’t you use my app?” I asked.
Either he legitimately forgot about what I was working on, or for some reason, the solution wasn’t compelling enough.
Deep down, I was frustrated and angry with my friend. Why would he not use my product? This was one of the telling moments that the solution wasn’t compelling enough. Oh well, I shrugged it off, there are lots of other users out there.
How do we get users? Let’s spend money on ads!
Doing marketing for a medical company is difficult. When you reach most people they are not sick and do not need your product. So we said, well when people are sick and need an appointment they Google it. Let’s advertise on Google!
We started spending money and getting clicks. A small number of people started booking appointments online or calling the number (which went to my cell phone). I called every user after their appointment and they all said they had a good experience. They seemed to like the product. But months went by, and not a single one came back.
Wait. No one has used us twice?
We were about 5 months in and spending money like crazy to acquire users. Growth was non-existent. Since we had no retention, we had to reacquire a whole new set of customers each week and then some to grow. I looked back into the data and was honestly a bit scared.
That was the “Oh shit” moment. The data I had ignored all along was staring at me right in the face. I ignored it all these months because I had believed my own bullshit. I believed that what we were working on was different and it just needed more time. When I talked to users, although they would tell me positive things, actions speak far louder than words.
At the end of the day, the business just doesn't work.
We realized we either needed a very cheap way to acquire users at scale, or be able to focus on users that needed us with regularity. The acquisition issue was that reaching people was expensive no matter what we tried. Users that needed frequent medical attention wanted that attention from their same doctor, so their case was ill-suited for an on-demand marketplace.
The users we had liked the product, but they did not love it. We made the tough decision to shut down. 6 months of work down the drain.
There’s a large difference between persevering in the pursuit of success and ignoring the facts blatantly. You can try tweaking things, but some ideas cannot be salvaged when the market refuses to adopt.
The better advice is “Know when to give up.” In endeavors like startups, giving up is the right thing to do a fair percentage of the time. If you ask most failed startup founders what they would do differently, it’s almost always, “quit earlier.”
So, how do you know when to give up?
You should only give up when the pursuit no longer makes sense.
I use the words “no longer” on purpose. You simply don’t have enough data to prove or disprove reasonable assumptions at the start. But you need to relentlessly re-evaluate as you gather data and time goes by.
To clarify, this does not mean quit when you’re scared nor does it mean quit when the odds are against you. It does not mean giving up your dream of starting a company entirely, but instead giving up on a specific idea that is just not going to work.
It means step back and logically re-evaluate every week. Early on, everything should be up for debate. If the startup is not working, find out why and fix it. If it cannot be fixed, you must change direction.
Find Signal. Ignore Noise.
When you’re doing something new, some people will tell you to give up, others will tell you to keep going. It’s safe to ignore both. There is one group you should not ignore. That group is your users, they will be the signal to help you cut through the noise.
If your users stop using your product or have excuses against using it in the first place, it’s a bad sign. It’s your job to find out why. You may not like the answer, but finding it out can save you in the long run. Conversely, if everyone thinks you’re crazy and wasting time, but your users love the product, there’s a high chance you’re onto something and should keep pushing. I wish someone gave me this advice when I was starting out. I would not have wasted so much time.
Time is the only asset that you cannot win back once you lose it.
Spend. It. Wisely.