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Startup Journal: 4 Obstacles a Visionary Must Overcome

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To the entrepreneur, a visionary idea is one of the most energizing things on the planet.

A truly disruptive concept invigorates like an arc-reactor in the chest of the dreamer, causing purpose and potential to course through their very core!

Thing is, if the idea really is a game-changer, it’s going to involve people changing how they currently do things. This will inevitably produce speed bumps, throw nails in your tires, and from time to time will bring your vision to a crashing halt - all of which can lead to burnout.

Building a startup is like a new year’s resolution to workout. Everyone says they’re going to hit the gym and transform their image and life, but guess what - very few do it.

Startups are the same way. This is why few make it past their first raise, fewer make it through their second, and far fewer survive more than 5 years.

So you’ve got a dream to build a unicorn? Awesome! I believe you can do it, but there are 4 obstacles every visionary must overcome first.

1. Someone already thought of your concept.

We’re such prideful creatures, passionate to create something authentic and unique. When your golden idea hits and the light of epiphany shines bright over your horizon, the thought that someone else has seen that same light doesn’t cross your mind.

This introduces the first obstacle for a visionary. What happens when you find out someone else already thought of your great idea?

Maybe your pride takes a hit. You might jump to discredit this idea you just held as genius. “Guess my idea is not as revolutionary as I thought,” you tell yourself.

Fun fact: I grew up in North Carolina. Do you know what NC license plates say?

“First in Flight,” in reference to the Wright Brothers revolutionary first man-powered aircraft journey.

Well, they actually weren’t first in flight.

There’s a very legitimate case that Gustave Whitehead achieved powered flight over two years before the Wright Brothers. But no one remembers Gustave, or his ideas.

Gustave Whitehead First in Flight

If you think someone else pursuing your idea means you can’t do it better, either quit or grit your teeth. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who thought it up.

Life is a fight. You fight for your idea, you take that emotional pity party of feeling less authentic because someone else had a similar idea, and you turn it into a competitive fire.

2. The technology doesn't exist.

If I had a dollar for every idea I’d brought to my CTO that doesn’t have an existing solution, I might be able to pay someone to develop them!

You’re a creative thinker. You conjured this whole idea out of nothing, and now you’re being told “no.”

But... but...

This introduces obstacle #2 to the visionary. What happens when the technology doesn't exist?

Sweet! What kind of visionary would you be if you did things that already existed? Enter the problem solver.

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The person who takes something entirely too complex, something never done before, and creates a simple solution. That's a problem solver. That's a visionary.

Richard Branson is 100% correct when he says:

“Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.”

Using Uber is simple. Systematically disassembling the cab industry is complex. Don’t let what something isn't keep you from creating what you believe it could be.

Jim Collins Quote Essence of Profound Insight is Simplicity

3. Your direct audience doesn't have buying power. 

How the heck does Nike get parents to drop $200 dollars on a pair of sneakers for their kid? 12-year-old Billy doesn’t have money to drop on new Jordan’s, but there he is rockin’ ‘em on the first day of school!

It’s not unusual for a product to be purchased by one demographic and used by another, but it can complicate a brand's message.

Obviously, Nike has more to it than, “Hey Mom and Dad, I noticed you might need to save for retirement or pay your mortgage, but you should buy Billy these fly kicks instead. 'Just do it.’” 

Nike's gone the superhero route, endorsing star athletes and role models for kids playing any sport.

We can’t all be Nike, but what often connects us to our audience doesn’t sell the Decision Makers we have to target. Hello, third obstacle to the visionary!

Your direct audience won't always hold the buying power.

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As a B2B company, Text Request had to dramatically pivot it’s value proposition from the consumer benefit to the business's bottom line.

We'd built a tool focused on the benefit of the consumer first, and we ultimately missed the mark with DMs in our space early on.

Today, we market a product that is desired and demanded by consumers, but that buyers - business owners and managers - will also profit from.

There's a huge takeaway, here. This idea you’ve drummed out of nothing already exists, and the space it exists in has data and research. R&D is real, and a bit of market research can help you sell your product, even if the buyer isn't the direct beneficiary.

4. You’re behind in your own industry.

I’m blown away by how easy it is to day-dream about others enjoying success. The thought process is in and of itself toxic, and should be avoided at all costs. But it happens.

Keeping up with your competition is a necessary evil that can lead to all kinds of wrong mindsets. First, you had to accept that your idea isn’t authentic, and now, not only are you not alone, but you’re behind!

Mark Cuban Work Like Someone's Trying to Take It Away

Why take the pay cuts, long hours, exorbitant amounts of stress, and constant uncertainty all to be second rate? Enter the fourth obstacle to the visionary. You're behind in your own industry!

Big whoop. You know who else was behind in their industry? Netflix.

In fact, CEO Reed Hastings, was so behind he went to Blockbuster in 2000, hoping to sell with an asking price of $50 million. When Blockbuster laughed the offer off the table, Hastings put his head down and went to work.

Today, Netflix is worth $79 billion. Blockbuster? They might have 50 locations left in the entire country.

Don’t lose heart when you’re behind. Know where it is you want go and work towards that.

-- James Dawson, Director of Sales

Related: Startup Journal: Keeping Faith in Your Business