Struggling entrepreneurs face many challenges as they try to bootstrap their way to success, but analysis paralysis may be one of the biggest hurdles stopping them from reaching their goals and keeping them in the cycle of trying to launch. Some entrepreneurs may think that if they can just learn more, success will come. But unfortunately, reading more books and blog posts alone isn’t going to be enough to move business forward.
So what will? I recently sat down with Zapier Co-founder and CEO Wade Foster to find out his take on the subject. While he definitely believes lifelong learning is an important factor, in his opinion, it’s taking action that is a direct pathway to success. It’s how he built Zapier, a web automation platform that now integrates with over 900 different web apps, from Slack to Mailchimp and Salesforce.
Wade says he sees too many entrepreneurs hesitating and trying to achieve perfection before taking action. Instead, he encourages entrepreneurs to start working now to gain the experience they need. “They want to be perfect out of the gate, and they delay actually working on their thing by going to read more blog posts,” he says. “‘They say, ‘I don’t know everything quite yet.’ They wait too long. Instead, it’s better to just start working.”
Like Wade, I have never subscribed to the idea that launching perfectly is necessary – the idea is just to launch.
One of Wade’s favorite anecdotes is from the book Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The book describes how, on the first day of a pottery class, a ceramics teacher divided students into two groups. The teacher told half of the students they would be graded on how good their pottery was, and the other half on how much pottery they made. At the end of the class, it was revealed that the group that produced the most pottery also produced the best pottery.
“By just getting down to business and trying to make as much pottery as possible, those people actually did the work and over time were able to slowly perfect their process for making it,” Wade explains. “They actually had better pottery than the quality group, which focused so hard at the beginning on doing it perfectly right out of the gate, that they never got around to actually getting good at the task.”
Don’t wait, he advises. Instead, “Default to action. Don’t worry so much about perfection or failure. Over time, by doing it, you’ll get better at it.”
It’s just common sense that the harder and more deliberately you work and repeat the process, the better you’ll get. But you also need a learning component that incorporates leaning on the success of others.
One of the best ways to do this is to ask for help from those who have done it before you. Wade likens it to his experience with trying to get into shape by taking up racquetball. When an older man from his gym offered to play with him and share some tips, Wade assumed he would “out-athlete” him, even though he knew nothing about racquetball. Instead, the man beat him 11 to nothing in less than ten minutes.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I have a lot to learn here,'” Wade recalls. He jumped at the man’s offer to help him learn the sport, and they did drills together 30 minutes a week. Wade’s now been at it for nearly 18 months and has a pretty decent racquetball game. He credits his improvement to two things: coaching and repetition.
Wade didn’t think about waiting to start racquetball until he knew enough to get started. He just learned the sport as he went. Take the same approach with your business: go straight to the experts and reach out to them for advice. That’s what Wade has done at Zapier, and that’s how I’ve built many of my own companies from scratch, including content marketing agencies and SaaS companies like Mailshake. When I started, I didn’t know everything about building a SaaS and what to do next. So I asked an expert for help, then just dove in and started doing it.
One of the best ways to reach out to experts is through cold email. Simply contacting people and asking for advice or for their help is effective – just get really specific with your request, and respect recipients’ time.
Wade regularly reaches out by email and asks experts for very specific advice and insights. Wade estimates that Zapier changes and grows its customer base about every 6 months, so he sends cold emails to CEOs who are ahead of Zapier in terms of their business size and success. He asks them:
- What was the biggest mistake you made in the last year?
- What is the best decision you made in the last year?
And because these companies are a year or two ahead of Zapier, their knowledge and experience is incredibly fresh. “It helps me keep an eye around the corner of what’s coming next,” Wade says.
As much as Wade emphasizes diving in and just doing things as opposed to simply learning about them, he definitely embraces lifelong learning and adaptability as integral parts of the entrepreneurship journey. As Zapier constantly evolves, so does Wade. He says there’s a constant need to re-adapt his entire approach to running the company as his customer base grows and changes.
“As we get more customers, we have to change the way we approach and serve them,” he says. “As a result, we have to start thinking, ‘How does our organization change to support that size of a customer base?’ Adjust the role you play in the organization to help it grow.
“You need to be able to build a skillset that will allow you to pick up on new skills, tricks, tactics, and strategies relatively quickly. And this never stops, especially if you’re a growing company like Zapier is. If you don’t get good at this learning and development thing, you’re really going to struggle to grow and scale as an entrepreneur.”
At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about action and learning; experience counts for everything. You can keep waiting to perfect your launch and learn more about the business you’re trying to create, or you can dive in, gain experience as you go, and build your own success.
The question is: are you going to take action, or keep waiting for just the right time?
How have you used Wade’s tactics to grow your own business? Are you a lifelong learner? Do you regularly cold email CEOs and experts for advice? Let me know by leaving a comment below: