Expectation Management For Crucial Startup Phases

 I was watching Shark Tank the other day. (Yes, I totally admit to watching pure entertainment TV.) And there they were: the seemingly brutal assessments of the various start-up ideas by the investors: “The idea is great but you don’t seem committed enough. I’m out.” “You haven’t made any money in 3 years and you still think you can make this work? I don’t work with delusional people. I’m out.” “We have given you our opinions as to how to make this idea big and you discard all of them? I’m out.”


Not committed enough to a great idea, overly committed to an idea that hasn’t taken off, stubbornly attached to doing things their way: While I entirely agreed with the Sharks in all of the referenced cases, I was wondering how other start-up founders could possibly learn from the feedback.


“EXPECTATION MANAGEMENT”, I thought to myself, at the end of the day, it all comes down to being able to pace yourself with your expectations and emotions during the various phases from ideation to success.


1. Pre-Startup/Ideation - What are you willing to suffer for?


Prior to the founding of a company and to even only birthing an idea, often times, there is a very unrealistic expectation of what entrepreneurial life is going to be like. Frequently, want-to-be founders state some of the following reasons for taking this life-altering step:


  • living a life-long dream 
  • being the master of one’s own time
  • looking forward to the freedom as an entrepreneur
  • making more money as entrepreneurs than working at a big corporation full-time.


What is interesting though: When you talk to well-established entrepreneurs they will hardly ever say that these aspects are only remotely true nor would they say that they find them motivating. Judging by real-life start-up success stories (a truly inspirational one in my eyes: http://bbc.in/1URaZXh) you might be better off replacing your question “What is my dream and how can I live it?” with the question:


What are you willing to suffer for?


Asking yourself this question will prepare you for the long and tedious way ahead of you and help you crystalize your ideas. What if you found yourself working four times as much as before? What if your social life went down the drain for extended periods of time? What if instead of making more money than before, you’ll make considerably less and have to work much harder for it on top of it? Would you still want to have your own company? Would you still consider it worthwhile? What exactly makes you move forward? What keeps you alive and gives you energy? Will you find this as well in your entrepreneurial scenario? And will you – in this less dream-like situation – still be capable of making sound decisions that move you forward in your life and career?


2. Pre-Startup/Conception – How sound is your idea?


In the conception phase you have to ask yourself some hard-core questions that will help you mold your idea into something concrete or to make the decision to drop the idea altogether:


  • What is my competitive advantage?
  • Where is my market niche?
  • Does this product already exist?
  • How quickly can it be copied by others?
  • What are the costs to following this idea?
  • Where are my financial, emotional and conceptual limits?
  • How scalable is this idea?
  • What could an initial revenue model look like?
  • Who could I partner with for this endeavor?


This is a good phase to get a first reality check from others: Can you present your idea convincingly? Do others like the idea? Do they only understand the idea? It is amazing how many times the answer to this is NO, while the founder thinks their idea will change the world.


As for your expectation management for this phase: This is not the time to be stubborn about your idea and think that you are the undiscovered genius the world has been waiting for. This is the time to truly be open to other people’s feedback. You should be thankful and appreciative for other people’s opinions. Remind yourself that customer and market feedback usually cost a lot of money.


If someone takes the time to give you feedback, take it in, understand how it relates to your idea/product and see how you can improve your idea and its entire presentation. EVERY feedback can help you save time and money, now and later. If you are stuck, seek professional help for the startup conception, talk to more people and go the extra mile of feedback loops.


Whatever it is, do not turn stubborn in this phase and think that your idea would be so great – if, well, if only people would get it! All great inventors and entrepreneurs had to go through those extra rounds, why wouldn’t you?


3. Startup Phase: Commitment/Validation/Scaling – Can you get commitment, traction and funding?


By the commitment phase, your idea needs to be so convincing that you can get a number of other people on board. If you can’t, refine your idea until you can.


By the validation phase, your idea needs to be able to show a sophisticated sales record and/or attract serious funding. If at this phase, none of this has happened, as sad as it may be for the moment, you may have to call it quits. As Shark Barbara Corcoran once put it: “Had I held on to my initial flower business, and I truly loved flowers and the entire idea, I wouldn’t be a millionaire today.”


You may notice how your expectations from pre-startup to startup actually need to shift:


  1. From living a dream – to committing to hard work and going through initial long phases of not being very successful.
  2. From living YOUR dream – to collaborating with others and catering to other people’s needs.
  3. From making more money than with a regular job – to knowing that you even have to ask investors for money and potentially go through long periods of time without a regular income generated by your idea.
  4. From holding on to an idea – to being open to changing the idea and the entire production/sales/marketing process.
  5. From knowing that you will be able to succeed - to knowing when it is time to pursuit a different goal in life.


If you think of your startup endeavor as a journey with six legs of Ideation – Conception – Commitment - Validation - Scaling – Establishing, you can prepare yourself by adapting the right mindset, strategy and expectation management. The clearer you can become about which phase you are in and what mindset it requires, the more prone you will be to carry your baby all the way from pre-founding to success -- or to make the decision that this idea has passed and that there will be another one!

Winning Startup Strategies From Ideation To Success



About the author:

Erika Jacobi is the President of LC GLOBAL Consulting Inc. and Editor of CHANGE TALK. LC GLOBAL® is a change and innovation consulting firm with offices in New York City and Munich, Germany. For more information visit www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LC_GLOBAL


Topics: Strategy, Small Business Consulting, Start-up Consulting, Expectation Management

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