How to Build a Culture of "I'm Wrong"

"I have no idea whether we're making good decisions! So much of this startup thing seems to involve making very certain decisions on things that no one could possibly know the answer to. Am I just missing the part of the 'Founder Manual' that explains this stuff or is everyone else full of shit too?"

August 17th, 2022   |    By: Wil Schroter

The only guarantee as a startup Founder is that we are going to be wrong — all the time.

Like, really, really wrong. We're going to be wrong about who we hire, what product decisions we make... hell, our entire startup idea is going to be a steaming pile of dung.

But guess what? That's OK.

Where we blow this up for ourselves is thinking that we have to have the right answer for every aspect of our startup. Of course, we want to get to the right answer, but the likelihood that we're going to "know it" from scratch is pretty much zero. Even if we do, we just got lucky.

The Business Idea is Wrong

Somehow we've built this mythology that great Founders have these "stroke of genius" ideas right out of the gates, and all they do from there is just work on that idea into its billion-dollar destiny.

That couldn't possibly be more wrong. All startup ideas suck at first, and not because the Founders are awful (we may also find that out later too..) but because the only way to refine them is to actually get them into the world.

Instead of asking "Is this a good idea?" we should be asking "What can I test next to make this the right idea?" We should be focused on the action of progress, not silly second guessing.

The Hires are Wrong

Established companies have tons of people that are there because over enough time someone has figured out who's reasonably competent enough to keep the job. We just started this thing 5 minutes ago — there's no possible way we're going to know who the perfect hires are.

So we have to compress some time. We have to make lots and lots and lots of hires to quickly find out who the good ones are. Which of course means we also have to part company with a ton of people very quickly!

We can sit around and try to pretend we know exactly who to hire or how they will perform, but it's not going to happen. We're building a product that has never existed, with a team that just got here with systems that we're making up as we go. There's zero chance we're going to know exactly who's a fit for this clustermuck.

Marketing is Wrong

We'd love to think we could kick off our marketing on exactly the right channels that will yield the perfect ROI. But how would we know what those are exactly? We don't. As a guy who watched clients burn through billions of dollars of ad spend in my first company (ad agency) I can tell you — it's shoot and pray.

That's not because we're not trying to make informed decisions; it's because we need to test channels long enough to figure out what works. Not to mention most channels that could work actually don't work the first 10 times we try because we don't have all the pieces right yet (placement, offer, and product).

Let's Build a "Culture of Wrong"

A long time ago when I was forming Startups.com I finally stepped back and said "You know what, I'm going to do this one differently. I'm going to go into everything with "I'm probably wrong..." and be OK with that. It was the best decision I ever made for our culture.

That's because we're not in the business of fortune telling, we're in the business of turning the future into the present through an unreasonable persistence of tiny edits. That mentality is something we need to not only bake into our own minds but into the entire fabric of our culture and everyone in it.

When we all start off with "wrong," we're all aligned on getting to "right."

In Case You Missed It

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About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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