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Cumulative Advantage: Why You Need A Bias Towards Action

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on September 24, 2010 in strategy starting 11 Comments

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?