The Problem of Doubt in Entrepreneurship

A lot of advice about entrepreneurship is focused on perseverance. Like:

“You have to believe in yourself and your idea.”

“Everyone will tell you your idea is bad – just keep going.”

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

And so on. And it’s true, of course, in a way – entrepreneurship is a difficult emotional journey, and there will probably be many more downs than ups for quite some time (believe me, I know). If you bow to that pressure, you’ll miss out on any potential the business ever had.

But by this logic, you should never give up. Not only that, but you should believe in your idea unquestionably. That, to me, is an issue: sure, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, but if you do take a shot, how do you know when you missed?

There’s a time, in entrepreneurship, to cut your losses (or, better, walk away with your winnings). Having an accurate, realistic vision of what your idea can really do is invaluable. I see lots of entrepreneurs aiming for a billion dollar valuation down the road, trying to make the case to angels and VCs that their idea will be the one that turns out to be a unicorn; but it’s a tough sell for anyone. There are lots of good ideas, ideas that the world needs, that will never be worth a billion dollars. Aiming for that, especially from the get-go, is a recipe for over confidence on the one side and disappointment on the other.

And let me tell you, I’ve seen many entrepreneurs over extend themselves against all the evidence that they should get out now. Trying to force an idea to work when it’s never going to (or, at the least, when you don’t have access to the resources to make it) is only going to deplete your savings, strain your relationships, and make you miserable, before eventually you have to pack it in anyway.

I prefer a model of entrepreneurship based on faith in oneself and doubt of the idea. The difference here is believing in yourself doesn’t mean you think you can do anything – it means you can do something. You don’t have to have all the strengths as long as you can find other people to help you.

Doubting the idea itself allows you to take a critical eye to what you’re doing, to think clearly about what your goals are, keep the problem you’re trying to solve in view, and to test your assumptions aggressively.

Doubt is a powerful motivator to innovate, and shouldn’t be spurned just because it’s uncomfortable.

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