Stepping back

By Bailey Hardin

Earlier this week, our LTV class completed a "business model exercise".  We were split into groups of 4, with each team having one entrepreneur who pitched the rest of the group their idea.  The team's job was to dig into the assumptions, and then design 3 MVP tests to prove those assumptions.

Many of the entrepreneurs who were pitching had been working on their startup ideas for many months, so the exercise seemed it would be less valuable for them, as they'd had time to conduct MVP tests.  As it turns out, the exercise was equally valuable, if not more valuable for the later stage entrepreneurs.

The earlier stage entrepreneurs were generally more focused on the basic assumptions and the later stage entrepreneurs had started to take their assumptions as facts.  They were not completely wrong to do so, as they had conducted tests to try to prove their assumptions and therefore achieved a certain level of confidence.  However, several remarked on how interesting it was to revisit those key assumptions.  Being asked the simple, yet tough questions by their classmates sparked new thoughts on how to proceed and what assumptions should be revisited.

The learning here is that stepping back is always valuable, no matter the stage.  With the goal of progress, entrepreneurs inevitably must take steps forward and focus beyond the basic assumptions.  And of course the pace of change and mile-long to do lists start to creep in - everyone can get stuck in the weeds under pressure.  But despite these realities, entrepreneurs (and all business leaders) would greatly benefit from scheduling regular stepping back sessions.   It should be a priority to continue to pitch the idea to unfamiliar people and have them really push you on your answers.  What makes perfect sense in a vacuum is often not the answer.

During the stepping back sessions, the entrepreneur should be in listen mode.  In many of the typical pitch situations, such as meetings with VCs or interviews with potential hires, the entrepreneur is incentivized to answer questions in a sales-like way.  In other words, its good to have the answers.  But by having all the answers, entrepreneurs can limit their learning.  The stepping back sessions should be a time to be encourage questions, not shut them down.  Just sit back and listen, don't worry about your response.

An interesting way of listening that entrepreneurs experienced during the business model exercise was asking an outsider to pitch their business.  Hearing someone else's articulation of the idea was informative for many of the entrepreneurs.  Another way to do this same exercise at a larger scale would be to ask customers to tell you how they describe you to other potential customers.  Hopefully if your referral/virality factor is good, you have lots of people pitching your business everyday.  Hear what they have to say.

Stepping back is certainly not a new concept, though it is an amazingly easily forgotten one.  Our own egos and day to day pressures can so easily get in the way.  In business and in life, I think we'd all be well served to step back, reflect on the big picture and figure out if we're on the intended path or a tangent.


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