The Secret To Entrepreneurial Success? Informed Optimism

What happens when the initial excitement of launching your business has died down — when your family is having dinner without you every night, your investors are pressuring you for results and your top employees are leaving for more immediate rewards at well-established, successful companies?


As an entrepreneur, your deep reserves of positive thinking have to be in place to shrug off the skeptics and naysayers who see all the potential problems and none of the possibilities in your dream.

But what if what the naysayers are pointing out is valid? When does optimism turn into being delusional? As an entrepreneur, it can be challenging to strike the right balance. If nine out of 10 startups fail, how do you know when to move forward with full force, when to pivot your idea and when to simply say it’s not working and call it quits.

There are three key questions entrepreneurs need to ask themselves at the outset of launching a business, to test the staying power of both their ideas and their commitment to those ideas.

Question 1: Is there a market for what you’re selling?

According to CB Insights, 46% of the startups polled stated that the number one reason they failed was due to “the lack of market need for their product.” This may seem like an obvious task, but the first thing you need to do is make sure there’s a market or potential market for your idea. Many entrepreneurs wonder “if no one’s ever done what I’m going to do, how will I know if there’s a market for it?” And if you’re trying to follow in Steve Jobs’ footsteps, remember he was the exception and not the rule.

Money magazine has the right idea: Just ask. Whether through conducting market research, talking to potential clients or bouncing things off industry experts, there are several routes you can take to know if you’re on the right track — or deluded. You may get your share of negative feedback in the process, simply because people have never before considered what you’re suggesting. That’s OK. You’re out to find out whether people could actually benefit from what you’re proposing, even if they think they wouldn’t.

You’ll also find out in this process whether someone else is already doing what you want to do, so that you can think about how you can do it better — or how you can get around any roadblocks that may come up, such as patent issues or hiring challenges. You don’t need to let obstacles stop you, but anticipating them is always preferable to being blindsided. Do your homework to minimize the risk.

Question 2: Are you prepared for the long haul?

Months from now, when you’re still at the office at 11 at night trying to figure out how you’re going to deal with an unexpected market shift, will your optimism be enough to get your through? I say yes — on two conditions: 1) you understand that the excitement and adrenaline rush you feel at the start of your new venture is bound to fade at times and 2) you’ve done enough research to keep your optimism grounded in something real.

Seeing your vision realized almost always takes entrepreneurs much longer than what they probably initially imagined. Every day, running a startup tests both your mental and physical endurance at the same time that it tests the value of the very concept of your business. There’s a ton of hard work and struggle involved in making it succeed. You need to be prepared for that.

Question 3: Who’s it gonna hurt — and is it worth the pain?

When you have a family, it’s not just you who misses out when you miss dinner with them night after night. And when you have employees, it’s not just you who’s working for less than you could be (at least for now). Everyone who’s in this gamble with you is paying a price and deserves the best possible chance of a good payback.

A lot of people have a stereotype in their minds of the entrepreneur as a “tinkering genius loner.” There’s no doubt that having a new and never-before-tried idea can certainly make you feel like you’re alone sometimes. But make no mistake about it, you’re by no means the only one with something to gain from the success of your endeavors — or to lose from their failure.

That’s why before you double down on an idea you believe in with all your heart, you need to be confident that all the effort will ultimately pay off not just for you, but for everyone else with a stake in the game.

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