I don’t feel that I know enough yet.
I’ve seen too many friends run around in circles jumping from project to project, failure to failure. 37signals likes to cite a Stanford (?) study that founders who have failed are statistically no more likely to succeed than first time founders. Only successful founders have a statistical leg up when starting a new venture.
It makes sense, when you think about it. After the near-infinite possible set of actions and combinations of actions you can take when starting a company, maybe 1% of them are right. 99% of the things you can possibly do at any one moment in a startup put you down the road to failure.
Failing only teaches you that the 1 in 1,000,000 way that you tried is wrong.
I don’t believe that a large-scale, I’m-gonna-go-out-and-raise project necessarily teaches you anything. It’s sort of like the big show - you should have rehearsed beforehand.
For example - my friend Hursh Agrawal has a kickass project called Roundtable, which recently was frontpaged on Hacker News. I talked to him yesterday and he was all over the place - putting out fires left and right on things that were broken, not working correctly, leads that needed to be followed up on. We talked briefly about learning resources we were working through - I’ve recently finished reading The Pragmatic Programmer and a book on Agile methodologies, and I’m starting on The Heart Aroused soon. Hursh remarked that he didn’t have any time to pick up anything new.
I’m not saying CEOs never improve or have time to learn - but there’s sort of a myth amongst non-founders that you’ll be able to learn as you go. That hasn’t been my experience. Usually, the learning comes after - after your startup is a huge, flaming wreck most likely. This is a mistake. Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is only 50% doing and acting. You have two options for minimizing this risk:
- Learn more up front.
- Ruthlessly protect your time, making sure you have time to evaluate and learn.
That said, that doesn’t mean I’m not learning. I think you can learn a ton from hacks/little projects, like Kyle Bragger’s tinyproj. Having users for a product does not a startup make, but I think you can learn a lot from that experience. I’m also working my way through a massive stack of management theory/software development/hacking books that I know I’ll never read once I actually start a company.
A lot of successful founders I know (Sean Ellis, for example) had significant work histories at startups or otherwise before starting something. I don’t have that yet.
Disclaimer: This is way, way different than waiting to launch your product. The only way to learn about your market and your customers is to start the Big Show immediately. This post has been about rehearsing for the Big Show as a person, as a founder. Not as a company.