All major transformations in the world require scale. If you say we need to deal with climate change, we need scale solutions. However, most people learn it by running over landmines and learning through mistakes. That’s why I started the podcast “Masters of Scale,” and why I taught a Stanford class on blitzscaling a few years ago–to help people avoid some of those land mines and use some of those landmines as accelerants:
Seek negative feedback.
When you’re asking people for advice and feedback, don’t ask, “What do you think of my idea?” Instead ask, “What do you think is wrong with my idea? Why do you think my idea won’t work?” Because the answers you get will force you to ask yourself, “What do I know that they don’t know?” That is your active theory. Being forced to grapple with it will strengthen it. People often think that someone who’s questioning an idea just doesn’t get it, or isn’t very smart. But that’s wrong. It’s the smart people who tell you when something isn’t working.
Go, go, go.
One of the things I wish I had done in my very first startup was mocked up the product I had in mind and literally take it around and asked for feedback. Don’t spend nine months doing software development and then putting it up in front of people. Because the reality is that you just don’t know what the market is going to want, you don’t know what the competition is, you don’t know how people are going to react. It’s great that you’re trying to get signal intelligence, but make sure at the end of the day, you’re focusing on execution.
Then as you get going, you should have the expectation that you will always be rebuilding.
Let some fires burn.
Understand that all entrepreneurs go home every night with fires burning. It’s inevitable that you feel like the fire’s on the verge of killing yourself, your team, or your business. You can’t put all the fires out right away. You just can’t. So again you have to ask some questions. One is, “Which fire is going to kill me immediately?” Prioritize and triage! Some fires are easy to put out and doing so will make your list of fires smaller, even if they require a little detour. And some are big fires, and if you don’t start on them now, by the time you get to them next week you won’t be able to put them out. And sometimes you wait.
At PayPal, when we got our series A and series B financing, if you did the math it was clear the business model wasn’t going to work in the long run. But people gave us money, so we were able to say, “We can figure that out later. We can let that one burn. We’ll come to it.”