I had coffee with a fellow entrepreneur today. He wanted some advice about user acquisition with his new iPhone app. We talked a bit about the app, and at one point I started asking him questions about the current state of the app:
How many users are actually doing the things you hoped they'd do?
How many use it once or twice and churn away?
What is the real point of this app - not "at scale" - but right now?
Usually I ask these questions as a litmus test. If the entrepreneur starts giving me weirdly obscure answers or strange rationalizations for reasons why things aren't happening, I know they're trying to convince themselves. And I got weird obscure half-answers.
If you struggle to convince yourself first, there's no way you're going to convince others. To put it bluntly, it should be clear that you are bullshitting yourself. In this case, my friend was bullshitting himself.
It's funny because even a year and a half ago, I would be right there with him - trying to find some positives in what is there. But it's been nearly two years of failing now and I simply can't bullshit myself or anyone else anymore. There isn't enough time to keep doing that. None of us have that sort of time.
So I told him some important advice that someone way better at this startup stuff told me:
Be honest with yourself about what you're doing and where you're at.
Ask the hard questions every day because no one else has the passion or belief to do it for you.
There's lots of great support in Startupland. It's crucial. But deep down, no one truly gives a shit about seeing your thing succeed except you.
If you can't ask the hard questions, no one will, and you will waste time building something that is doomed to fail.
You can't create real valuable products or services built on hopes and dreams of what will be. But you can do it by becoming obsessed with impossibly difficult questions and pursuing the answers to their fullest potential.