I consider myself a dreamer. I regularly get lost in thought about random stuff (e.g. watching people’s behavior, contemplating solutions to everyday common problems, imagining myself 15lbs lighter). You get the idea.
I’m also an aspiring entrepreneur. Although I worked at an early stage startup and was the very first “official” hire I still can’t call myself an entrepreneur. Some would argue that I joined the startup so early that I could be considered part of the founding team - and therefore an entrepreneur. Maybe…perhaps, but not really. A few months ago I set out to execute on a business idea I’d been dreaming/thinking about for about 2.5 years now. I’d been getting advice from the entrepreneur of the startup I worked for. He also happens to be a close friend. He suggested a number of actions and today I put one of them into play. After spending a days with potential customers, studying their business and asking questions I realized that for 2.5 years I designed the wrong dang solution.
But the larger takeaway was self-realization. I realized I’m a DREAMER! This isn’t a bad thing, I just need to be aware how being a dreamer slows my progress towards becoming an entrepreneur. I also realized some fundamental differences between a dreamer and entrepreneur. For my fellow dreamers and aspiring entrepreneurs I thought I’d share these differences to help you NOT waste time:
Dreamers are thinkers, Entrepreneurs are tinkerers
Dreamers, stop wasting time building solutions (in your mind or in reality) to an unconfirmed customer problem/pain. Stop spending time in your mind and spend time with the potential customer. Entrepreneurs intuitively know this. That’s why they tinker. They will pull out their discovery tools (intuitive insights, questioning, and common sense) and tinker to uncover customer pain. Only once they uncover real customer pain will they begin to think about a solution. Otherwise they will continue to tinker.
Dreamers are talkers. Entrepreneurs are about that action (Marshawn Lynch reference).
We’ve all seen it before. Some dreamer telling you all about market inefficiencies, industry consolidation, and the opportunity to easily build X that will capture 10% of the market. It’s right there in the dreamer’s spreadsheet – in column ZZ row102 – with a green box around the revenue numbers. $500M by month eight post launch. Easy peazy lemon squeezy. Hahhaha, that’s my boy, don’t be hard on him! But you have to know he’s a dreamer. The entrepreneur on the other hand has 5 signed LOIs from potential customers and 5 page slide deck asking for $ to build a prototype. Clearly he’s bout that action.
Dreamers move to markets that are slow to adopt, Entrepreneurs move away from those markets.
When you’ve developed the ‘perfect’ solution for an underserved market that has been historically slow to adopt technology let alone a new way of doing business – you’re a dreamer. Entrepreneurs see these same market dynamics and say, “This market isn’t ready b/c the customers aren’t able to see the value we’d deliver for them. It takes too much time, energy, and effort to make a market think like us and see problems and opportunities like us. We’re better off tracking other industry themes and engaging an industry that’s ready for us.”
Dreamers fret, Entreprenuers fight
While dreamers are fretting over some irrelevant detail with their solution that no potential has even seen, the entrepreneur is on the front lines fighting for the next introduction/meeting/pitch/deal. He’s “fighting the good fight” while the dreamer is fretting. C’mon dreamers stop it. Let’s go fight.
Dreamers are very patient, Entrepreneurs are very persistent
Because dreamers have this “solution” in their minds and have minimal contact with potential customers, they can be very patient when launching. I say that ‘tongue and cheek’ b/c the dreamer won’t launch. He’ll just constantly dream about launching in addition to what could go wrong when he launches and how he’d quickly fix it. All the while the entrepreneur is persistent in his pursuit of acting on his vision. C’mon dreamer, at least try to be a persistent dreamer. That’s a move in the right direction …right?
There are so many other differences I could mention. However, the purpose of this post is to help the dreamer get off the bench and into the game. As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming. We need to do it. For some of us, it’s who we are. But if you don’t watch out you’ll be ten years older and watching that entrepreneur ring the opening bell on a random Friday. Hopefully you won’t see this and lean back in your chair, hands behind your head, and start dreaming about how you’d ring that bell.
Don’t do it dreamer. Get to work!
Update: I had someone ask me what was the business idea that I referenced earlier in the post. I built a platform that allows hair care professionals to run their business efficiently and increase revenue. The product promise entails giving the urban hair care professional a mobile infrastructure to increase his seat utilization thereby driving recurring revenue. Perhaps I'll write another post about market dynamics in this competitive industry.