think big start small

Think big. Start small.

One of our various posters at the exutec office quotes Tony Hsieh, a great entrepreneur and the founder of Zappos (and “inspirator” of the german copycat Zalando), with one of my preferred motivational statements: “Whatever you’re thinking, think bigger.”

Whatever you're thinking, thing bigger.

In my opinion great things can only be achieved by breaking barriers, disrupting industries or inventing new technologies. All of these have one in common: They are greater than everything what’s common and exceed the imagination of nearly everybody by far – otherwise it would be common.
So it’s a crucial  fact that you have to think big to be able to make something great. Sometimes it seems to be a thin red line between thinking big and being a megalomaniac – at least from an outside perspective. If you read the bio of the latest great inventors like Jobs, Musk or Page you see that they are able to think bigger as most of the others – even as 99,9% of employees in their own companies.

With my (humble) experience of building startups I irregulary coach startups in their idea or seed phases. The funny thing is that thinking big isn’t the problem of any startup which came in contact with me. Most of them have a breaking idea, big markets and it is unthinkable that their unicorn valuation is more than a year ahead. Ok, in fairness this is maybe a little bit overdrawn – but what’s real is their unbreakable belief in their own idea. And this is GREAT! In my opinion the human being is capable of doing things that are outside of our imagination by having an extraordinary high inner motivational spirit. I enjoy every (upcoming) founder who is burning for his idea and have to smile because I know that feeling very well.

You can’t start big.

There is only one small problem. You can’t start big. Unless your dad passes you a big amount of money you can burn (Cheers to Trump & Bilzerian), there is nearly no chance to start big. The funny thing about this is that every founder knows this fact, but is ignoring it when deciding about road maps, expectations and features. Often it seemed to be frowned upon to break up an idea into small steps – because, and I have said this in the beginning of my post, you have to think BIG! But the important thing is to differentiate between a big vision – which is absolutely great – and the steps to reach the vision.

What Momo has to do with it.

There is a small aspect that most of the inexperienced founders ignore as you have to get trough this for your own: The path from start to your vision is not straight. It’s a twisting, exhausting and steep road up the mountain. There are many deep potholes, side roads and suddenly stopping forks. That’s nothing anybody has to fear, but you have to be aware of it. Or to say in one of my favorite quotes of Michael Ende’s street cleaner Beppo in Momo:

“…it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop–and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.
You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.
That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.
And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. what’s more, you aren’t out of breath. That’s important, too…”

Small steps do not lead to less speed.

And don’t mix up two things: Starting small and thinking in small steps has nothing to do with less speed. You have to iterate your ideas and concepts more often but this don’t mean that you have to be slow. If you can maintain high speed throughout the iterations you will be faster at the imaginary finishing line – and with a much higher probability to reach this point at all.

build-measure-learnMy favourite concept to support this thinking is “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. I recommend any upcoming founder to read this book – not only once. The main principle of “Lean Startup” is to do repeating circles of building Ideas, measuring the impact/results, learning from them and starting with the next step/iteration. You can use this model to quickly iterate hypotheses – and that’s most of the game: Understanding the market, understanding the customer and their needs and building a product that really fits these needs – not only in the founder’s imagination. Don’t depend on hypotheses, just try it out and measure the results. Sure, this isn’t a way for every single idea: If you build a bio tech or a medical startup you aren’t able to iterate from the beginning with customers. But in my experience there is only a very small number of cases where “Lean Startup” isn’t the right answer to the first steps.

As my passion is to build ideas and “Lean Startup” is one of my mantras you will read a lot more of it at this blog in the future. Feel free to comment this article – I would be happy to read your view on this topic as mine is by sure not the only possible. Thanks for reading!

Key takeaways.

  1. If you are interested in startups and have not read Lean Startup until yet – do it.
  2. Think big – life is too short to do irrelevant stuff.
  3. Don’t let you tell from anybody that your idea won’t work – try it!
  4. Try it lean: Iterate the Build-Measure-Learn-Process as fast as you can.
  5. Start now. The biggest failure is not to start.

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