I had tea yesterday with a new friend. He’s a smart guy building what sounds like a really interesting product. But while describing his product and business model, he quickly fell into a common trap - the fallacy of the hockey stick.
When I asked about the revenue model and growth plans, his discussion turned into, “we’ll build a great product now, do some small things here where we can, and the real fun will be 3-4 years and millions of users later when we’ll be able to do all these interesting things like X, Y and Z.”
I see this a lot across many of the life science and software/tech startups I work with and/or talk to. He’s a really smart guy building a pretty exciting product. He is as passionate as they come. He’s working his ass off. He has grand ambitions. But he glossed over some important things and it made me ask a question I often ask founders: “Okay, but HOW do you get there?”
So many founders take on an attitude of, “This is the rocket ship I’m building. When I press this button right here, it’s straight to the moon.” And that’s a great vision. But it’s wrong.
WARNING: A hockey stick is NOT a straight line that goes up-and-to-the-right. That is a fallacy.
A hockey stick is really made up of two parts: the stubby, flat stickhead; and the long, thin shaft.
The common trap is focusing on the shaft and not the stickhead. The stickhead is the most important part of the hockey stick. It’s where the stick meets the ice, the part that gets the bumps and scratches. It’s the part hockey players spend hours taping and re-taping to keep the stick in optimal condition for play.
For startups, it’s those first users, the period where you take your first bumps and bruises, make your initial mistakes, and learn, learn, learn. If you don’t pay your dues here, you’ll never hit that inflection point and turn the growth curve upward.
You can’t graduate up the hockey stick to the shaft until you find and lock into what Steve Blank calls the “sustainable, repeatable business model.” It’s where a startup goes from discovery to growth.
Dan Shipper's recent interview with Jason Fried talk about identifying that visceral, emotional benefit that users get. When you find that and tap into it, you’ll be able to understand how to implement it in your app and get closer to that inflection point.
This may happen quickly. Your “hockey stick” may look more like a field hockey stick. Or, it may look more like this:
Either way, you have to find and tap into that emotional need. If not, you may never reach that inflection point. Embrace the stickhead. Take that time to learn everything you possibly can, don’t build features for features sake, and focus on providing the most visceral benefit you possibly can.
To keep me focused on this, I have this permanently etched into my home office’s whiteboard:
"I want this…"
"I need this…"
"I will support this…"
All else is bullshit.