There’s two radically different attitudes towards what it takes to grow a successful business, and both have their merits. What if we could combine the strengths of both “schools of thought” – and where is that already happening?
I first got into entrepreneurship when my sales career started at the age of 19. I had regular daytime jobs in small sales organizations, and on evenings and weekends I was often occupied with small or big “side projects”. Periodically the side projects grew to “main projects” that kept me busy during the days as well. It was only after I left that world of more or less constant “hustling”, replacing it with university and constant exploration and discovery, that I got into the domain of startups and the methodology of creating scalable businesses.
Sales culture vs development culture
When I was in all those sales-driven jobs, the mantra was always “a good salesperson can sell ANYTHING”. It’s a culture of achievers and solo players, heroes that bask in the spotlight when their results are hitting the targets.
I think a lot of my reason for being attracted to that environment was masochism, frankly – from time to time I did get good or very good results, actually… the rush of victory, the (albeit hollow) “team spirit” (since everyone else on your “team” was really also your competitor) and the constant focus on sustained and improved performance was exhilarating – but the cocky confidence and the egocentrism of the top players in the arena was never something I could identify myself with, and eventually the “sellsellsell” setting had lost its lure. As an introvert I looked at the whole period as a challenge and a learning experience, and after picking up what skills and insights I could it was time to move on.
Then I got in touch with “innovation-driven entrepreneurship”, the kind that’s driven from the incubators at the institutions of higher learning – I met engineers, scientists, social researchers, all these inventors with fantastic technical savvy and smart, complex ideas on how to solve this or that problem with the help of this or that new thingamajiggy that they were developing.
Their attitudes and behavior were all expressing something I had heard just in passing during my previous years in entrepreneurship: “If you build it, they’ll come”. How many stories haven’t you heard of innovative projects that just never got commercial traction?
Reaching a middle ground?
I’ve seen instances where both stances were proven valid. Media companies being built up from a nonexistent audience and a non-unique value proposition being sold on hype until the hype substantiated itself and the founders made exits worth millions. Technical innovations that took years and years to build, their development sustained by “artificial funding” (i e “not revenue”), and then getting huge contracts with industrial clients. Those are the extremes, and we can learn something from both. What’s refreshing is when the deep understanding of market behavior meets the passion-driven, detail-focused and vision-imbued, long-term, re-iterative building of a great product. That’s where real magic is created. That’s where truly great businesses are built.
Hey, if you think this post means to glorify The Lean Startup as the golden combination of these two worlds… you’re partly right. If you didn’t think that, I suggest you start getting familiarized with the works of Steve Blank and Eric Ries. One of these days I’ll take a look at that movement/methodology, and we’ll see what we can gleam from those reflections. Meanwhile, please share with us – which do you lean more towards, the selling-focused or the development-focused side?