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As a mentor at this year’s edition of Startup Weekend Dubai in November, I got a chance to be around a bunch of entrepreneurial teams, all of whom were all working hard on building their respective versions of, well, the next big thing. When I met them, these budding entrepreneurs were hard at work preparing for how they’d present their planned projects or enterprises to a panel of judges at the end of the 54-hour event, and so, I went around listening to their pitches, and then giving my two cents on how they could probably make their case better.
In my notes for a few of them, I suggested that they rethink their idea or model, since I felt they were not particularly strong enough in their current formats, and so, reworking them would probably be a better course of action. Now, criticism is hard to take- I know this from first-hand experience back when I was a student learning journalism, and my professors, when editing the first drafts of any of my write-ups, wouldn’t think twice before telling me that the pieces I wrote were hardly as amazing as I thought them to be, and that I needed to rewrite them pronto.
Such situations often had me shaking my fist in the air, especially in those cases when I particularly loved and believed in what I had submitted, and I’d passionately try to defend my words- you can probably now see why I had a déjà vu moment of sorts when I was the one dishing out critiques at Startup Weekend. As a result, I decided to respond to my entrepreneurial mentees with the same advice I heard from my professors back in the day, which was: “Kill your darlings.”
This phrase comes from a quote often attributed to American writer William Faulkner, which goes: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” This is essentially a piece of advice for writers, who sometimes fall in love with some of their words so much so that they don’t realize or refuse to entertain the idea that those beloved bits are actually hampering the experience of the reader- which is, obviously, not a good thing when it comes to writing.
This is why Faulkner advises scribes to kill their darlings- the love writers have for what they have created often blinds them to their faults, and this is a feeling that entrepreneurs should be able to easily identify with. You are sometimes so enamored of the value that you believe you or your offering has to offer, that you fail to look at it with an objective eye, and thus overlook what are often rather obvious errors in your line of thinking.
And that is why you, as entrepreneurs, should also kill your darlings- your product or solution must always serve a particular purpose for your intended customer, and if, at any point, you’re told that it is not doing that right, then remember first to not dismiss such criticism blindly, and then take it upon yourself to consider it as dispassionately you can. There’s a fine line between being resolute about the idea you have in your mind, and, well, changing or rethinking your idea in a manner that it suits your intended clients better- knowing the difference between the two is key for entrepreneurial success.