Cumulative Advantage: Why You Need A Bias Towards Action

About This Blog

This site is for  entrepreneurs.  A full RSS feed to the articles is available.  Please subscribe so we know you're out there.  If you need more convincing, learn more about the site.



And, you can find me on Google+

Connect on Twitter

Get Articles By Email

Your email:


Blog Navigator

Navigate By : 
[Article Index]

Questions about startups?

If you have questions about startups, you can find me and a bunch of other startup fanatics on the free Q&A website:

Subscribe to Updates


30,000+ subscribers can't all be wrong.  Subscribe to the RSS feed.

Follow me on LinkedIn


Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Cumulative Advantage: Why You Need A Bias Towards Action


The following is a guest post from Rob May.  Rob is the founder and CEO of Backupify which provides secure, online backup for twitter, Facebook and GMail.  [Note:  I’m an angel investor in Backupify].

Your idea sucks, but you should start anyways.  You aren't making progress because you aren't learning.  A bias for action will fix that.

In a nutshell, that is my frequent advice to people that tell me their business ideas.  If you are a first time entrepreneur, I am a big fan of doing something - doing anything - that will help you learn.  I believe the key to being a great entrepreneur is to learn faster than everybody else.  Sometimes that requires you to make a lot of mistakes.  Sometimes it doesn't.  Either way, the more you learn, the more you get ahead.OnStartups act now button

I'm 33 years old, and I have spent the last 9 months as a venture-backed CEO for the first time.  And I have learned more than you can imagine.  I am out of my comfort zone almost every day.  But that is why I am (hopefully) getting better.

In the education industry, there is something called "The Matthew Effect."  Kids who learn to read earlier read more, and by reading more they become better readers faster, and the gap between them and their peers widens over the years.  The same thing is true in entrepreneurship.

Startups are like minefields.  Most people never make it out alive.  Some make it out because they are lucky.  But most who make it out make it because they've hit so many landmines they know how to avoid them.  You don't learn this in books or by reading blogs, but by living it day to day.

When you do things, you learn.  Over time, that learning adds up little by little.  At first you don't notice it.  A year into your first bootstrapped startup, you may look at your peers and realize that you aren't really any better off than they are in terms of money, connections, or knowledge.  But you are.  You just can't see it yet. 

By year two (or startup two, if your first one was short), you will have a few interesting connections.  You will have made many many mistakes so you will already be able to evalute business opportunities much better than you did before, and will be much more selective.

From there, you get to start hanging out with more smart experienced people, and that makes your learning accelerate at an unbelievable pace.  Suddenly, what looked like a bunch of wasted time and money in the past looks like the foundation of a great education.

So what does all this mean?  It means you should act on your idea.  It means try something.  The best way to learn and grow is by doing.  That is why, when people tell me their business ideas, even if they are mediocre, I point out the flaws I see, then tell them they should go do it.  If you are going to wait until you have it all figured out before you start, you will never start.  Adopt a bias for action, and learn as much as you can.

What do you think?  What's holding you back from starting to learn?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Fri, Sep 24, 2010


Great article, and that's what I love about the internet. Those of us who are entrepreneurs at heart can so easily throw ideas out 'into the wild' online and get real time feedback on feasibility and interest. 
You can get a domain name for $1 to $8 bucks, spend a few hours developing your website, and see how it goes from there. Pretty cheap investments - at least initially! 

posted on Friday, September 24, 2010 at 7:20 PM by Thomas

" You don't learn this in books or by reading blogs, but by living it day to day." 
This has got to be one of the best advice for entrepreneurs. You cannot learn from a book, you can't learn it from school.... you have to JFDI. That is the only secret to success, is to try and to make mistakes - to learn from it all. 
Thanks for sharing!!!

posted on Friday, September 24, 2010 at 9:01 PM by Minna

I would add that an entrepreneur should be impatient for action but patient for results. Yes, the bias for action is absolutely critical but the willingness to really think long term and go for the long haul is equally important.

posted on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 2:55 AM by Allan

The trajectory you just described was spot on. I've seen myself go through those steps---started off doing some crazy projects, founded a startup and it blew up (in the negative sense), found myself living in an abandoned frat house, then found myself having access and respect from very smart people, and being able to assess opportunities much better. If you spin your wheels real hard, you might not go anywhere for a bit. But, once you catch some traction, you'll be going a lot faster than everyone else. 
Thanks Rob. 
(and go Wildcats) 

posted on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 11:41 AM by Kevin Vogelsang

Thanks for the advice! As a first time, solo entrepreneur, it's been difficult to keep my eye on the prize, keep doing, and not get distracted by every new idea or negative reaction I see. 
But I'm a doer and gambler at heart, so hopefully I have a chance...

posted on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 3:55 PM by Aaron Longnion

Great post. I think this is something really important for start-ups. Not because it is sexy but because this is real foundation which must be considered. Leaders need that kind of thinking and only leader with vision can creat start-up. What I can add to your post is posted here: 
Thanks for your post and stay tuned.

posted on Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 4:14 AM by Arek

Best quote from this article: "The best way to learn and grow is by doing."  
Love the post. Great job.

posted on Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 10:42 AM by Victor Boba

Someone already quoted the best line from this article, but again, "You don't learn this in books or by reading blogs, but by living it day to day." 
I think we need to reminds ourselves of this every single day. This is good stuff. 
Excellent guest post, Rob!

posted on Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 11:25 PM by Tia - Webbed Ink

People don't take action because they are fearful of what might happen and what might be. 
β€œToo many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” Les Brown 

posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 6:30 AM by Usama

Yeap - these are the wannabes. People who have a product idea and want the glory of being the founder & entrepreneur, but never take the first step. I've been dealing with start-ups and entrepreneurs for 15 years, and after reading your post, I had to sit back and think about why. Many wannabers expect to contact 1-2 investors and have them hand them the funding on the first visit, and when it doesn't happen, they quit. Others want someone to pay them to develop their ideas, they are not willing to pursue their idea even to the proof of concept level without funding - even if its just working on it in their spare time. 
That said, I also see failures due to action without thinking first. Entrepreneurs often develop a prototype, but never bother to even to do a Google search to see if the product already exists.

posted on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 4:23 PM by Cynthia Kocialski

Great post! I've messed up a ton along the way but I've learned a lot from making those mistakes. 
If you're green in business, the best way to learn is to get out there and do it. You'll hopefully learn from your mistakes and find a style that works for you in the process. 

posted on Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 12:57 PM by Ryan St. Germaine

Comments have been closed for this article.