Startup Advice: Go Hard or Go Home
Be bold and brave with your startup so you quickly learn how to make it a successful business
When it comes to launching a startup, "Go hard or go home" is solid advice. But there is a nuance to this. The idea is to take actions that contribute to learning, not to spend big and risk financial losses.
Entrepreneurs Usually Advise Beginners to Go Hard
Company founders and co-founders often tell aspiring entrepreneurs to launch earlier rather than later and be willing to take risks. In other words, they are advising new entrepreneurs to "go hard".
I surveyed dozens of articles with entrepreneur tips and found that about 60 per cent suggested "going hard" in some way. About 30 per cent didn't, instead advocating for activities such as planning and customer research. Only 10 per cent of advice articles seemed completely silent on the subject.
Here are some examples of the kind of advice given to entrepreneurs. These are in the "go hard" camp.
"Launch before you feel ready... Validate your business idea by launching fast, bringing on a small group of paying customers and adapting to make your solution great for them over time."
-- Ryan Robinson
"Take risks and be willing to fail. Failure doesn't preclude you from ultimately succeeding – in fact, it's often a necessary step. The best entrepreneurs don't let the fear of failure prevent them from going for what they believe to be a great idea."
-- Chelsea Segal
Just Do It. There is never a perfect time to launch a startup, so follow that famous advice and "just do it." Take the first step to building your business, even if it's only part time while you still have a paying job.
-- Richard Harroch
Why Going Hard is a Solid Approach
To make progress in any endeavor, you have to start somewhere. And that's part of the reason why entrepreneurs recommend going hard. You can stay in the comfort and safety of the sidelines forever, avoiding risk but also guaranteeing that you never taste entrepreneurial success.
But the more challenging question is why you would launch a startup when you have the option to do extra preparation, such as market research, detailed business planning or even an MBA. Why, as Ryan Robson suggests, should you launch before you feel ready?
The conclusion I've come to is that the overarching reason to go hard is to speed up learning. Launching will start feedback and refinement loops for your idea. You can improve your concept by, for example, pitching to prospective investors and testing early versions with customers.
Going hard is also a quick way to find and detonate any "landmines" that lie along the path to success. Often the things that ultimately cause a startup to fail or have to change direction are unexpected. Extra planning can be redundant until these obstacles, such as entry barriers, are discovered through real-world testing.
Learn Like a Beginner If You Are One
If you are moving into unfamiliar territory and learning new skills, there is an extra reason to go hard. You are launching as a beginner in many respects.
As a beginner, you want to move up the learning curve quickly. Trying new things, experimenting and taking risks are all part of this. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, believes, "If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."
The best learners among us are kids. If you have observed children trying something new, such as exploring a tablet, you may notice they experiment in a playful way and have fun discovering. Young ones are also fearless in terms of ego, staying undiminished by their missteps.
The lesson to learn from kids, who are beginners at life, is to embrace risk and be creative and unafraid of mistakes. You can apply this lesson when you launch a startup, especially since you don't have a boss around to judge your efforts.
I have no problem admitting that the early years of building Unicurve.com were full of amateur mistakes and cringe-worthy designs. It was part of the business plan in a way since I was learning web development from scratch.
The startup ultimately benefited from me having the freedom to charge ahead and try things without asking anyone's permission. Going hard produced some nice innovations and definitely accelerated the learning process.
But Hold Back If You Know What You Are Doing
You may have noticed that there isn't complete agreement about "going hard". As I noted earlier, around 30 percent of entrepreneur advice articles seem to advocate more for being prudent and well prepared. This I put down to the benefit of experience.
If you watch an elite sportsperson or a skilled craftsperson, they move with an economy of effort. Years of practice have taught them how to get things done without wasting energy. They are the opposite of excited kids -- professionals who are doing rather than learning.
My approach to my second business has been much more considered compared to the first-time round. While I learned tremendously as a beginner, looking back it's also clear that I expended far more energy than was technically required. My new venture, Timtab.com, is being launched closer to a finished product.
Gaining experience as a business developer or in an industry means you are further along the learning curve. You have skills and can see the obstacles ahead. While any new idea must be tested in the marketplace, you can do more preparation of value.
Going hard still has merit but you can use your knowledge for extra strategy and planning. For example, I have a well-practised method for making a commercial web page. That helps me better prepare for a product or website launch. And I can be more confident of a financial return on the time invested.
With experience, you have more "knowns" to plan around. Launching early also offers fewer learning benefits. The "going hard" philosophy seems, therefore, to be more relevant to newbies than people with startup or industry experience.
And You Don't Have to "Go Big"
Going hard doesn't necessarily mean that you have to follow the adage, "Go big or go home." With a real risk of failure for most startups, "going big" can be unwise. You could easily regret quitting your job, selling your home, borrowing loads of money or finding other ways to bet on your ideas.
How "big" you go on a startup should always be a risk-reward calculation. In other words, increase the scale of the startup to the extent that it makes sense. A good entrepreneur should always find ways to keep costs down, do early marketing testing and avoid risks that could derail the business.
You can still draw on some of the positive aspects of going big. Increasing the overall stakes is definitely a motivator when you start a business. And thinking big has benefits, such as helping you innovate and be a leader.
Nonetheless, "going hard" is a sounder philosophy, especially for a beginner launching their first startup. Success does not necessarily rely on you taking big risks. But it does require you to have a go in the real world so that you start to learn and grow as an entrepreneur.