Just like a songwriter suffering from writer’s block or an artist hitting a creative wall, all founders, at some point, must face the music of balancing competitive analysis and its evil nemesis, paralysis.
For startup founders in any industry, it’s natural to overanalyze your product, and sometimes that ends up with you positioning yourself too specifically in the market. However, if you’re deep in an existential crisis moment, fearing the damage that could be caused by adjusting the dial too much, you may be stifling innovation by missing out on the unexpected benefits that come with making quick decisions. Remember, there’s only room for one twelve-minute guitar solo on an album. Knowing what your audience wants — when to try something new and when to play a hit — could be the difference between creating a unicorn or a donkey.
My company has helped hundreds of startups launch and evolve. Along these founder journeys, we’ve seen plenty of hits, misses, and one-hit-wonders. Press pause on your founder soundtrack and consider the following startup tips (reimagined as terrible band names) before your next set.
The Fox and the Cat
There’s an old Aesop fable about a fox and a cat who discuss the ways they can escape from a hunter. The fox boasts he has a whole sackful of tricks and the cat has just one. The cat doesn’t disagree, but insists his one trick is worth a thousand of the fox’s. When the hunters arrive, the cat quickly scurries up a tree (his solution) while the fox debates all the ways he could escape. Unable to decide which is best, the fox ultimately fails to act at all and is caught.
This children’s story is the perfect example of analysis paralysis. This is a lesson to repeat to yourself when you can’t sleep and are wondering if you should have done a little more research before launching your product. Spoiler alert: The answer (and the band’s chances of recording their next studio album) is “unlikely.”
Know Your Enemy
American psychologist Herbert Simon (also could be the lead singer’s real name) says people make decisions in one of two ways: We either “satisfice” or we “maximize.” (I promise that’s not a typo). If you’re a satisficer, you pick the option that best fits your needs. Maximizers never settle and always look for better options, ones that will provide maximum benefits later on. They pride themselves in making the most informed decisions possible.
Hang on a second, you’re thinking. Isn’t that a magnificent approach?
Sure, it’s reasonable to expect making the most informed and beneficial decision would lead to the best outcome, but studies contradict this. Believe it or not, maximizers have been found to be less effective in decision making, actually. They also suffer from the self-inflicted pressures of impossible expectations. Sounds like every founder, right?
Psychologists say the root cause of this founder dilemma is anxiety. As a founder, it’s hard to avoid being consumed with the fear of choosing the wrong option or launching a product that maybe isn’t quite ready for market. You burn the midnight oil weighing the variables, examining the competition, imagining all the ways even the smallest decision (or lack thereof) can blow up in your face. Did I remember to hit save?
The more data we have, the harder it becomes to process it. Choice overload leads to analysis paralysis and takes a direct hit on productivity and creativity — the two things you need to design and launch a killer product.
As a founder who’s been there — and trust me, I’ve been there — let me share a cautionary tale. Our agency once worked with a unique client that insisted on iterating their product behind closed doors for months on end without any user feedback or testing. Months of development eventually became years of pivots without ever testing their concept or hypotheses with any real users for fear that a competitor would steal their thunder. Although the project started with a frantic rush to design and build out the platform, countless business pivots driven by the CEO’s ‘gut feelings’ dramatically slowed their launch.
Knowing what your audience wants — when to try something new and when to play a hit — could be the difference between creating a unicorn or a donkey.
We eventually realized that each new feature the CEO added was his attempt to keep up with the Joneses, churning out comparable features, and ultimately losing out on a timely launch. Three years later, they finally launched with a whimper and a subsequent backslide while still being guided by the CEO’s now nauseated gut.
If you want to get your startup going, define your goals, do the research and the networking your industry requires, but don’t ignore the value of bringing some naivety to the table. What may start as ignorance can sometimes develop into a novel way of solving a common industry problem. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter which direction you move, as long as you just move, man. Breaking this into steps can help you put one foot in front of the other (and meanwhile, help name our cringeworthy band’s first singles):
4 Steps to Get Your Startup Moving
- Prioritize your key decisions
- Define unique, SMART goals
- Make a roadmap
- Forget perfection
1. Prioritize Your Key Decisions
Not every decision you make is going to bear the same impact on your work. Start with a list of your most impactful business decisions and prioritize those with the shortest time until you feel the benefit. Consider what may go wrong, but don’t dwell. Once you have your setlist, start the show.
2. Define Unique, SMART Goals
This is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to mention because you want to make sure your goals don’t contradict one another. It helps to establish goals that are “SMART”: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.
3. Make a Roadmap
What does your plan of action to accomplish your goals look like? How will you navigate from start to finish? If you like to operate with deadlines, you can take steps based on a set timeline. That might be researching for two months, prototyping, then testing for another two months, doing a month of PR, then a few weeks of networking. Tackling it in steps can help keep on track for an efficient launch.
4. Forget Perfection
This may sound crazy, but sometimes “good enough for now” really is good enough. I’m not saying to send garbage out the door, but if you’re confident enough in your product to launch — you’ve put in the research, tested that it works with minimal bugs, and you’re open to constructive criticism — stop wasting time, get to market and start gaining valuable insights from users.
It all comes down to the build-measure-learn feedback loop, and all successful startups have this mastered. Seeing what customers actually do with a product is much more valuable than asking them what they might do. It can be tricky
to rock a rhyme to walk the line of “just enough,” and there are pitfalls in both under- or over-developing your product.
What if you only did enough research to justify what you already wanted to believe? This seemingly ridiculous concept is called utopia myopia and is very common among Type A founders. This concept, also known as confirmation bias, can be just as damaging as analysis paralysis. Finding your perfect balance between having enough research and not enough should become your signature move.
Stay aware, but not obsessed, and you’ll keep your competitive analysis paralysis at bay — satisfy your fans and they just might bring you out for an encore.