Building an early stage startup is emotionally turbulent. The daily highs and lows are severe--the psychological amplitude includes soaring moments of excitement and deep valleys of darkness. Scott Cannon, cofounder of app Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox), recently shared a helpful visual representation of this process with me.
In the beginning we start optimistic but uninformed--we are passionate, energetic, excited to be pursuing a new idea, yet naive. As Donald Rumsfeld describes, we don't even know the "unknown unknowns." We have figured out only a few things (the known knowns), may have identified what is next up to figure out (the known unknowns), but largely suffer from not even knowing what we don't know yet (the unknown unknowns). Next in our progression we start to encounter pesky "facts" or "feedback"--our product is actually illegal, not a single person will pay us for it, three companies already launched it, etc. This leads us to the state of informed pessimism.
A real test of an entrepreneur is how he reacts at this point: does informed pessimism lead to determined curiosity and perseverance? or does it lead to despair or finality of the idea? There is actually no right answer here: in some situations the right answer at this moment is to say: I collected the right data to learn that my hypothesis was, in fact, negated and given this I will now stop investigating this idea, product, company, etc.
To generalize, however, too many people give up at the moment of informed pessimism--and the truly successful entrepreneur knows how to endure this very tough time of pessimism and pull through to above the x-axis to return to informed optimism.
My first goal as an entrepreneur is to become an informed pessimist as fast as possible--I want to know every reason why my idea is absolutely terrible. Then my second goal is to use every tool I can possibly find to collect information to become an optimist again.
How have you managed to turn this corner and become an optimist again?