Trust Your Own Focus Group of One
If there’s one thing that distinguishes the most successful entrepreneurs of the modern era, it’s their absolute faith in themselves. Despite long odds and hordes of naysayers, they listened to their gut, carved their own path and won big.
Make no mistake: these people had their doubts. I’m sure they had plenty of sleepless nights wondering if what everyone said was true -- that it couldn’t be done, that they must be smoking something, that they should have their heads examined.
I guarantee they replayed every incident of rejection, every word of conventional wisdom, every logical argument over and over in their minds. After all, they’re not superhuman, but flesh and blood humans just like you and me.
And yet, they never succumbed. They held onto their dreams until they became reality.
Related: The No BS Rule
Now, I bet I know what you’re thinking. Crazy ideas are nearly always flawed in some way. But that’s the whole point, n’est-ce pas? Every game-changing breakthrough begins with just a tiny chance of actually working. But you’ll never know if you don’t see it through.
Until you trust your own focus group of one and tell everyone that says you’re nuts to kiss your behind, you’ll never know if maybe, just maybe, you were onto something big and, for some strange reason, you were the only one who had the vision to see it.
Think about it.
The world is full of messaging services from giants like Apple and Google, not to mention dozens, maybe hundreds from app developers. So how come WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton were the only ones to realize the key was to have no ads, no games, no gimmicks, and no storing of messages or collecting user data?
They kept it clean and simple – just the app, thank you very much – and ended up with half a billion engaged users and a $19 billion check from Facebook.
And I’m wondering how many of you realize just how bizarre it was for Steve Jobs, who cofounded a computer company, to create Pixar Animation Studios. And how crazy was it for Apple to completely remake the music industry with the iPod and iTunes. Not to mention getting into the dog-eat-dog cell phone business with iPhone, a move that all the pundits thought would be suicide.
The idea of selling albums at a discount and somehow turning that into a huge chain of record stores may not be all that far-fetched, but do you really think anyone believed Richard Branson wasn’t nuts when he decided that Virgin should expand beyond music and get into the airline business? And how about the dozens of other industries that now make up the Virgin empire?
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were told by dozens, maybe even hundreds, of investors that their idea of a standalone web-search company was a dumb idea. Yahoo could have bought the whole thing for $5 million and passed. Then, one day, a guy named Andy Bechtolsheim wrote them a check for $100,000. Today, Google’s worth $400 billion.
While I hate to admit it, I’ve never really been a big fan of Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX. Sure, he’s a ridiculously hard-working guy who sacrificed everything for his companies, but he’s also arrogant, egotistical, and fond of making over-the-top promises he hasn’t always kept.
But still, who in his right mind would make a car in California, let alone an electric car that would have to compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Lexus in the brutally competitive luxury car market? As for founding a private company that, in 10 years, would develop and launch rockets and a spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, I doubt if anyone thought that was even possible.
I can go on and on with all sorts of examples, but the point is this:
We live in an era dominated by social collectives. We spend more time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn than we do with our real friends and family. All anybody talks about is collaboration, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. And if you’re not all about diversity and inclusiveness, you’re pretty much ostracized.
While I highly recommend surrounding yourself with smart lieutenants who always tell you what they really think, if you want to become a breakout success as an entrepreneur, when it comes to making the final decision, trust your own gut. Trust your own focus group of one. That’s where most innovation comes from.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.