For a few years now I’ve been very interested in technology and entrepreneurship. I often get to speak to like-minded people, who are either undertaking an ambitious project or planning to undertake an ambitious project. Often these people tell me how awesome their project is and how big and successful it’s gonna be. And I’m all in for that kind of talk; I too think that my own ambitious project, GarlicSim, is super freaking awesome and is going to make a revolution in the field of computer simulations. After all, that’s one of the big reasons for being an entrepreneur: Wanting to build super-awesome projects and have a noticable effect on the world.
But… I think that many entrepreneurs don’t take these kind of claims very seriously. So I found a new hobby: Following up on entrepreneurs. It’s a rather easy and satisfying hobby, and you’re welcome to try it yourself; all it takes is (1) a calendar program like Google Calender and (2) a sum total of 20 minutes of work over a large period of time.
Phase 1: Find a big-talking entrepreneur. This is pretty easy. It can be one of these guys saying “OMG I’m gonna build the next Facebook!” It can be a person announcing a new project on his blog, or a company promising a new product. If you’re a developer/designer, it’s often someone trying to recruit you to join his project.
Phase 2: Talk to the entrepreneur, and try to get a schedule for a milestone out of him. “We’ll launch a public beta by [some date],” or “We’ll have 10,000 users in 6 months,” or “we’re gonna find an investor this month.”
Phase 3: Use Google Calendar or something to set a reminder for that date. Set it to send you an email saying “so-and-so promised milestone Y by now”.
Phase 4: Go on with your life. Weeks/months/years pass.
Phase 5: Get the reminder email and check if the entreprenuer achieved the milestone. This is the fun part. Sometimes the entrepreneuer/project will have a public site where you can check if they made a public beta or whatever their milestone was. Sometimes you’ll have to contact the entreprenuer, either by email or by phone, to ask him whether he achieved the milestone.
These are the three main responses that you will get:
The entrepreneur decided to give up completely on the project. This is by far the most common reply. Yes, it’s absolutely okay to change your plans, maybe decide you want to build a completely different project for a different audience— That’s being agile, and it’s a very important trait. It’s also okay to decide you want to get a job for a while, or even take your life in a different direction, like getting married, moving to France, and taking up competitive fencing. It’s your life. But hey, you know what else is absolutely okay to do? To call you out for talking big but not delivering anything.
Couple of examples from my inbox:
Currently I’m going back to the job market myself
Maybe in a year and a half after I know the business and enterprise world better
From a different guy:
We will have a complete alternate [technology redacted] tool chain done by January. :-) :-) :-)
[Then, 2 months later:]
I have been sidetracked - and working out if I want to invest/throw-away time to do that.
Being december, christmas is upon me.
Thanks for asking
The entrepreneuer tried to do the project and failed. It’s still a bit of letdown, and you do deserve to be called out on your bold statements. Instead of “We’re gonna build the next Facebook” you should have said “we may have a chance to compete with Facebook.” But hey: At least you tried, and that’s something rare and valuable. Way to go, and good luck with your next ventures.
This condition is rare enough that I don’t have a good example of it from my inbox.
The entrepreneur is actively working on the project, but it’s gonna take a while longer. The people who give you that are one-eyed kings in the land of the blind. They may need to improve their time-planning skills, but hey: They’re actually working on their project. That’s so very rare. As long as they actually deliver on their new deadline, my hat goes off to them, even if the project is quite different from what they originally planned.
Example from my inbox:
As you might have guessed we are running a little bit late on our schedule. But we are still expecting to enter in beta during the first half of February.
Phase 6: Drawing conclusions. If the entrepreneur didn’t achieve the milestone, or didn’t even try, as is the case most of the time, you can think together with the entrepreneur: What went wrong? How come you were so sure something would happen and it turned out not to happen? Perhaps you’ve let the romantic in you take control of the pragmatic? You don’t make a big exit with wishful thinking, you make it by being very well-grounded to reality. Also: In your next project, are you again going to say that it’s gonna be the greatest thing ever and will have millions of users? Why should we believe you?