The Essential Question for Every Entrepreneur

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How to know if you're building the right thing

This is a guest post by Alex J. Hughes, an EC advisor, software product manager, and writer. Join his reading list for 5+ monthly book recommendations–with free reading notes so you can dig in–and his latest articles.

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Sometimes the best question you can ask yourself is, "Am I building something I would want?"

As an entrepreneur, this should precede every other question. If the answer is no, there's a fundamental disconnect. You're going to have a difficult time sustaining the necessary effort over the long run. Momentum comes from engagement.

The real secret to product development is creating something that you would want to use.

I evaluate every new product, opportunity, and startup that I consider pursuing with this filter. Success demands years of hard work. If I'm not engaged or I don't find purpose in the work, it's a nonstarter. Otherwise, I know I'll be at a disadvantage facing off against someone solving for their own point of need.

I use the same filter when considering partnerships or investments. I look for founders and teams who are building things they've demonstrated a deep interest in for years.

Consider those who have sustained success over decades–Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Bob Dylan, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin. Each person created things they wanted in the world around them. They pursued fields of work they found engaging and compelled to contribute to. That's what kept them going.

And that's the difference between people who burn out or get lucky once and people who sustain success–regardless of industry.

But despite this simple truth, many entrepreneurs insist on building things or addressing problems that they have no real interest in themselves. Most often this is due to inexperience or a lack of integrity.

Inexperience reveals itself in early entrepreneurs who believe that their first decent idea is their only shot at making it. Instead of practicing patience, they force the issue.

But the real currency of successful startups is in execution. You can have the best idea in the world, but if it doesn't resonate with you as an individual, it's going to be difficult to get through the necessary struggles. Creating something from nothing is hard work.

The notion that ideas are a multiplier of execution is empowering. It frees you to be more selective about the startups and projects you get involved with. Instead of looking for a single brilliant idea, look for a strong idea that resonates with you and that you are uniquely suited to bring to life.

There’s no shortage of ideas out there. You might as well take on something you're aligned with and invested in so you feel like you're working towards something worthwhile.

Entrepreneurs with integrity don't involve themselves in projects that aren't aligned with their values and interests. They don't allow themselves to be distracted–even by the allure of easy money. And they don't allow envy to dictate their direction in life.

If you're building something you wouldn't actually want and that you're not proud of, you're sacrificing integrity. And integrity is far harder to come by than money, recognition, or an inflated sense of self-importance. Never mind the ensuing search for lost time.

"Your goal in life is to find out the people who need you the most, to find out the business that needs you the most, to find the project and the art that needs you the most. There is something out there just for you. What you don’t want to do is be building checklists and decision frameworks built on what other people are doing. You’re never going to be that. You’ll never be good at being somebody else." Naval Ravikant

The world needs more people creating real value–building things that resonate with them and pursuing work that reflects their deepest interests and principles. That's what it takes to build something great and sustain the effort that it takes to overcome inevitable obstacles.

For most hard-working, talented people it’s just a matter of time. Years of consistently showing up, learning, and dedicating time to your craft pays dividends. The power of small, calculated decisions, habits, and behaviors grows exponentially over time.

But first, you must find alignment.

Are you building something because you think someone else might want it?

Or are you creating something that you would actually want to use? This reflects a deeper interest and resilience. It's an immediate advantage that puts you in a far better position to succeed. This is where you want to be.

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