…even if you don’t know where the f*** to start with
When you dream of launching your own idea or venture, there’s a big chance you might look up to those who « made it » in the media and think to yourself « How am I ever going to top this with my little idea? »
nobody started big – testing is part of the game
Well, Elon might’ve. But I mean, it’s Elon. Besides, every rule has its exception otherwise it wouldn’t be one, right?
Let’s take a well-known firm such as Netflix. When they started out in 1997, internet wasn’t as big as today, and their business was actually selling and renting DVDs. After a first year of testing out this service, the founders decided to solely focus on renting DVDs. And it’s only in 2007 (so ten years after their initial launch) that Netflix introduced streaming, which would rocket-fire their business to the economical giant we all know today.
But chances are that when you think of Netflix, your mind takes a bit of a shortcut picturing them going from nothing to this huge firm. It’s normal, firms are not really keen on communicating on their « fails » – all the more if they’re french even though this tends to change now. And, when you’ve walked the path, retrospectively, all makes sense (as would Steve say), making it more difficult to imagine the doubts/chaos they went through.
In other words, it’s a bit of a survivor biais. We only put on stage entrepreneurs who « made it », occulting those who are still struggling to « get there » or who stopped on the way. This lack of representation fuels the imaginary we have of what « a perfect idea » should have to thrive. But everyone starts (and started) from scratch eventually.
To « make it » you have to « start it », test and iterate to find a model that both suit you and your audience.
you don’t need to know where you’re going to start the journey
You know what they say « done is better than perfect ».
In France, we have this belief that, to do something, we have to have everything planned out. Worse, that we should master every part of it, leaving little area for any improvisation. In school, we also learn that we’re only allowed to give our opinion when
- we master the topic – remember how shamed were the ones who tried to express themselves in english class whilst having a terrible accent? This kills our risk-taking tendencies right off the bat
- we have an acute knowledge of every other opinion expressed – in our essays, the third part is dedicated to our « personal opinion » inspired from the authors/experts thesis we have already discussed in the previous ones. On the contrary, when I studied in the US, I remember our english teacher encouraging us to emancipate from the theoreticians. This empowered us far more to sharpen our analytic skills to deliver a coherent yet sourced point of view.
To me, this discrepancy learnings partially explains why, many of us in France often want to wait until we have the perfect plan figured out before embarking for a new adventure. This very same spirit can be found in our relationship with entrepreneurship.
Many will approach it as a path not to be taken until « THE idea » is found, backed with THE perfect plan. This first holds the risk of you building an idea on your own – sometimes without communicating with your target population and thus forgetting those who you’re creating for. Second, of postponing – or worse never launching – because a plan / an idea is never « perfect ».
Remember the saying « Forging makes a blacksmith » or « the path is made by walking ». Well, ideas are no different. They become more real / clearer by doing. So hop on and go!
the path matters more than the destination
I remember that, when in (french) school, we learnt the necessity of finding « THE » answer to a problem, thus focusing 100% on the result… but not on the path that gets us there. Especially in maths class. During exams, the points were attributed on whether or not you found the right result. Sometimes – if the equation was complex to solve – we might be given points on the reasoning. But believe me, it was peanuts compared to the emphasis put on the solution.
On the other hand, when I took calculus in America, I was intrigued by the way teacher approached his topic. Indeed, when he wanted to teach us a particular theorem, he’d first hand us a result – sometimes a series of formulas to guide our reflexions -, and expected us to rewind the process to find the initial equation in a given time.
Weird, I know. To be fair, few – not to say none – of us ever managed to rewind so far in the 30 minutes he left us to explore the problem. However, no matter how far we were in our reasoning, we’d all get a reward at the end. Chocolates, sweets, whatever worked. This way, the teacher intended to
- show his trust in our abilities to unravel a complex problem
- empower and responsabilise us by this act of trust
- desacralise the importance of a result VS. the reasoning
In this case: the path mattered more than the destination. Our ability to reflect were the main point of the course.
Even though I never had a soft spot for maths and all things related, I still think of those times as empowering. I didn’t manage once to find the initial equation, but it made me realise that we were all in the same boat when trying to solve a problem. Chaos (and uncertainty) were part of the (learning) process. And, I don’t know for you, but I never pictured Galileo’s rough drafts super clean on the first try. Let alone Newton’s.
Well, same goes with launching an idea: you can’t have it all figured out on the first day. Trying to develop a project is like unraveling a mathematical problem. It takes time (except for the cracks) and (many) iterations before finding a way. And it’s normal. BUT, you have to get started to actually be able to identify all the possibilities laid down before you – even if it’s not perfect.
ok cool, but how do i go about it now?
Well, depends on what you already have in mind.
Let’s say you have a vague idea of what problem you want to address to without a clear vision of the kind of product/service you want to yet. In this case, one of the main challenges is to narrow down your target audience, talk to them (to actually find out their needs) before building something that could be far from their reality.
Keywords are: be user-centered.
If you already have a service or a product in mind, the keywords remain the same but this time, you have to meet your target audience with a first prototype (to get feedback). Prototyping doesn’t mean spending tons of money on production, but rather trying to build a first draft of your idea which embodies its core fonction (I’ve talked about it previously in this article). This holds a double function: 1/ are you able to sum-up your added-value in one experience? 2/ are your users able to grasp your added-value in one experience?
Getting feedback is super precious in both cases to 100% understand who you’re targeting / what they need / how they need it.
our millennials today #buildinpublic
no idea for « after »
Truth is, I just wanted to learn how to build a website and gather information about graduation-anxiety. But as I quickly started to go about asking my peers about their own vocational journey (a form of qualitative interviews I’d say), I collected data on their interrogations and needs.
The tricky part with Our Millennials Today was that, in a way, I was my own target population (lost & about to graduate). This is sometimes a sort of an excuse to not conduct qualitative interviews. But, now that I realise it, the closer you are to your target, the more interviews you should do to actually confront your opinion to the reality of the field.
I thus found out that if my followers were sensitive to ecology, feminism and such causes, they also wanted to talk about other topics like impostor’s syndrome and such (that I never thought of talking about).
Same goes for my following base which was a bit younger than expected. And which continues to lower since I’ve opened a meme account.
a first traction
This base of following allowed me to test out different things. The newsletter, first, then the podcast which took different forms. It started as discussions between two students or young graduates talking about their « curriculum » and interrogations regarding their future (professional) lives. Then, I switched to a simpler mode of interview where I sit down alone with one interviewee.
Then I realised that the community came to me for reassurance first, but was also seeking answers. Thus the introduction of the new podcast series #Lifeguard, revolving around coaches for them to share their life paths and their vision around orientation.
Finally, I understood that people also came for the tone of voice Our Millennials Today had, wanting to be heard and accompanied by me. Hence the creation of La Culbute (in french), an online course to explore your relationship to change.
Today I’m exploring new possibilities, but it’s only made possible by these 2 years of testing / encounters and my year of podcasting. This without mentioning all the other contents I’ve tested out and put on hold for now.
This exploratory work – done in public – has allowed me to better understand my target population and create a first relationship with them. This will – I hope – make it easier for later (?).
Let’s be clear, I have not yet defined an after, but it’s becoming less foggy, thanks to the people who follow me that are building the future of the project with me. Through polls, questions, podcasts, exchanges, they’re having me explore new directions which I hadn’t thought of before.
Thus my advice: start, you’ll figure it out on the way. Fun fact, it also works in vocational orientation 🐋