Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Crazy enough to change the world

By Steve Blank

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

— Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement speech, 2005

Last week one of our mentors abruptly resigned from coaching one of the Lean LaunchPad student teams after claiming the students were ignoring his practical advice and years of expertise in the field.

His reaction reminded me one more time why entrepreneurship is an art, why VC’s manage portfolios of companies and why new ideas come from those who don’t respect the status quo.

I’m a Domain Expert Damn It

We always assign experienced mentors to our student teams. In this class this seemed like a perfect fit – a driven (irrational?) founder paired with a mentor who had two operating companies in this space, who had developed and sold vertical market software to companies in this space, and had studied the field as an academic specialty. A match made in heaven?  Not exactly.

The mentor tried his best to get the team to look at the actual operating data that exists for this kind of service and the likely regulatory hurdles they will find. He was very negative about the concept and strongly suggested the team do a pivot, but the founder was very determined to make a go of his concept.

He finally quit in frustration.

And here’s the conundrum – given a wise mentor (or VC) with years of experience telling you it’s a bad idea – what should you as the founder do?

Are You Crazy Enough?

What we suggest to teams in the classroom is the same as I suggest to teams in real world startups – after customers and experienced people are telling you it won’t work –

  1. Are you passionate enough to still believe?
  2. Can you explain after why getting out of the building and hearing all the negative news you still want to persevere?
  3. Will it change the world enough to make it worth the trials, travails and pain in getting there?
  4. If so, ignore the other voices. The world moves forward on those who are dissidents. Because without dissent there is no creativity. A healthy disrespect for the status quo coupled with passion, persistence and agility trumps everything else.