Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How old were you when you decided to start giving up?

When a 7 year old tells his mom, "Mom, I can't do my math homework. It's so hard. I'm no good at it", how many parents tell their kid "You need to hire someone to do that for you".


This is a constant lament though of adults. Especially adults trying to start businesses and their own projects. In any kind of gathering of people talking about starting businesses, the odds are huge that you are going to hear someone say "I have this great idea for a software company, I just need someone to build it. How do I find a technical co-founder and build this business in a couple months?".

First of all, the relationship between co-founders of a business is very much like that of a married couple. So that's like asking "How can I find a wife and get married in 2 months?" Sounds ridiculous.

Secondly, why let your lack of knowledge of how to do something ever stop you from what you want to accomplish. Learning math and reading was hard at one point, but we all learned some of it. I remember arriving to math class my Freshman year in high school, and the teacher began with a review of what everyone already knew. Everyone except me. He asked everyone what FOIL stood for. Every single student knew that it was First-Outer-Inner-Last. Except me :)

I tried on my own to learn it, and failed. So I showed up for tutoring every day for about 2 weeks until some of this brand new material started to click for me. And then I was out of the starting blocks.

And most of us continue to learn something new our entire lives. So when do some of us reach this point where we start feeling "you know what, I'm too old to learn something new, and I'm going to have to watch my dream go unfulfilled unless I meet someone else to do it for me."

I'm not saying it's easy. I'm not saying you'll magically get good at this skill you don't have right now. But you can probably learn it enough to accomplish at least a baby step of your goal.

Programming is often this skill people don't have that they need someone for.

I look at my mom. She's almost 70. Hasn't had a programming class or even the desire to learn to program her entire life. But she wants to sell flip flops. She has a few things she really wants like to display a slideshow of her wares. Problem is, inserting a slideshow into a Shopify page isn't an easy task for someone like her. Where do you insert this chunk of weird bits of code? Well she figured it out. She didn't wait around for someone to do it for her. She left some extraneous characters of course in her html :) which is then easy for someone who does know what they are doing to remove (I'll leave it for now as an example)

I look at the example of starting Inkling. We knew we wanted to make work places more efficiently democratic, and prediction markets were a means to accomplish that. We also knew we wanted to use an algorithm to make the tool easy to use. The great part was this algorithm was out there for everyone to read. The bad part was a very smart economist wrote it.

And so I had this scientific paper laden with math describing something that I wanted to do but was pretty foreign to me. I tried to get a friend with a PhD in Math to help me out, but he was busy with his post doctoral stuff at MIT. Only one good way to make sure it gets done then. Learn it myself. Took some time. Hurt the brain a bit. Doubted myself a ton. But eventually it clicked, and we had it working, and were on our way.

Don't get me wrong about building good teams though. I very much believe in partners and finding awesome people to collaborate with. I have people at Inkling that do many things a thousand times better than I could ever do.

But if I didn't have them, I refuse to sit on my hands, hoping to meet someone to help me accomplish what I want to do.

Even the act of learning a new skill for the sake of accomplishing your goal, is a great way to meet that partner of yours. So your project might start off rickety because of your amateur hands, but you'll start surrounding yourself with people either through classes, or conferences or online forums, wherever, who might just make the perfect spouse to take your seedling and grow it into a success.

If you have the resources, then by all means hire the right talent to get your projects done. But if you don't, if I don't, I refuse to let my dreams slip by.

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