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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Sticks, Stones & Shitty Excuses

As an entrepreneur you are likely to encounter various aspects of business and life where scarcity might be an issue: funding, customers, revenue, skills, talent or even your time. There is one thing, however, that you will always find in abundance: excuses.

And, most of those excuses will end up preventing you from actually doing something: taking action or making progress in whatever you are working on at the moment.

The worst part is that excuses are so easy to find; you don't even need to go looking for them. They're always there and it's easy to use them to justify a decision because we are an excuse-making society and, as such, we tolerate each other's excuses.

Excuses are absolute bullshit though. And I bet that if you had to plot a line-graph of where you made excuses and where you didn't succeed or make progress, you'll find a strong correlation between the two.

Last Tuesday I was vilified, criticized and labeled as a deceitful scammer on Hacker News. This stemmed from the article I wrote about how I made $4000 in revenue with PublicBeta by selling a product that I did not yet have.

Reading through those comments sucked. Initially, I tried to respond and defend my honor, but eventually I just relented and took all of the criticism on the chin.

The thing was that I had somewhat suspected the criticism given that I had presented the same content at MicroConf Europe the weekend before. I knew from that experience that the validation and sales technique I used wasn't for everyone and it most definitely divided opinion.

I learned from those interactions that the merits of the situation didn't really matter to people. They either loved or hated the technique. And if they hated it, I was the Devil in their eyes.

The thing about this was that I had specifically chosen to validate our assumptions (for PublicBeta) in that way because it would mitigate the risk of us building (and investing heavily in) something that people didn't want. I had learned the hard way that the "build it and they will come"-mantra is mostly bullshit, and if we screwed up our first few steps with PublicBeta, we'd have reached the end of our runway pretty quickly.

So I was (and am) willing to do whatever it takes to see PublicBeta succeed and execute on its vision of helping other entrepreneurs, even if that means seeking ultimate validation and selling a product I didn't have.

It's like being between a rock and a hard place:

  • Tell a white lie to validate your business, which means pissing some people off; or
  • Don't seek the ultimate validation and potentially build something no one wants.

I specifically made a choice that I would rather step on a few toes than risk a whole startup by building something based on assumptions and unvalidated feedback.

This brings me back to excuses.

Let's look at some of the numbers that relate to this whole experience:

  • My article has received about 15,000 unique visitors (to date).
  • There's 40 plus (unique) negative comments on the Hacker News thread.
  • Of the 160 or so tweets that I can track (that links to the article), less than 5 are blatantly negative.
  • From my e-mail newsletter (about this) last week, I received more than 30 replies from people giving me their support.
  • We have over 70 customers today and $4000 plus in revenue. Heck, we've had almost 10 new signups since I published that article. (And new signups are bigger than our churn.)

You can slice that cake any way that want and (in hindsight) use that data to make up your mind about what I did.

The thing about excuses is that you could've easily told yourself that you're not willing to piss-off 40 or so people (on Hacker News), and used that motivation to make a decision about how you deal with the assumptions and risks in your startup.

For every good reason to do something, you can find multiple bad reasons not to do it. Most of the bad reasons are only weak excuses though. And that's all about not moving beyond your comfort zones.

Remember this: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is built for.”

For every maiden voyage, I bet you there were loads of reasons not to make the trip. I can also bet you that there were loads of cynics who would criticize that voyage before the boat even left the harbor. If you were the ship's captain and looking for an excuse not to take your vessel out to the open sea, you wouldn't have far to look.

However, if we all adopted that mindset in our lives, we'd never innovate and progress.

I can cite many of the clichéd mantra's that I use here often: Real artists ship. Done is better than perfect. JFDI.

Today I'll add two more to that list: "Stop making shitty excuses," and "Do whatever it takes to accomplish your dreams and goals."

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me. I will also never use those words to make shitty excuses for not doing something.

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