Take the stupid, loyal dog out of the equation.
March 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
An old Puerto Rican legend tells the tale of the loyal dog of a Spanish soldier. The soldier and his pet patrolled the grounds of a small fort that protects the entrance to the Condado lagoon. The fortified walls, watch towers and cannons kept San Juan safe from pirates and the British fleet.
One day, after years patrolling the fort together, the soldier was recruited as reinforcement for the Spanish Military in Cuba. Soon he was shipped away, leaving behind his loyal pet. The dog watched his master’s ship disappear into the horizon, standing on a group of rocks with the waves of the Atlantic crashing at his feet.
According to the legend, the dog went out to that same point day after day, waiting for the return of his master, his eyes forever fixed on the horizon. Years of longing, petrified him into the rocks, and today, if you visit Condado, you can still see the dog, now a loyal stone, staring out at the ocean.
I’ve always loved this story, but recently I fear that I myself may be waiting hopelessly for something that might never come.
I always pass the legendary dog when I go out for a walk. As an entrepreneur it pains me to feel so identified with his plight. I am constantly refreshing my inbox and verifying that my phone’s ringer isn’t on mute. I am always waiting for a sign of progress: a returned call, a spike in downloads or a reply to an email. I can almost hear a mocking version of the old-school AOL voice saying “You don’t got mail.”
There’s a limit to the amount of proposals you can send and cold calls you can make. Each action you take, sets off a new timer, a new response to wait for.
I guess this is true of any sales job, you’re lucky to get a response for 10% of your calls. But as an entrepreneur, you are the product, unanswered calls become even more hurtful. Sometimes there are streaks of success, days in which you are on fire. But in between, long stretches of silence make it hard to feel productive and stay focused.
I try to escape these silent stretches with long walks. My route forces me to face the legendary dog in Condado.
I admire his persistence but despise the loyalty that blinded him to reality.
This is the great risk of being so personally vested in something. It is easy to become blinded by your incredible loyalty to an idea. It’s hard to discern if you’re waiting for something real, or just becoming a human version of the legendary tale.
I am a very good networker, I take pride in in the response rate of my emails and I have become a good salesman. Are the replies and returned calls validation of these skills or a sign of the value of my product? It’s easy to confuse small short-term achievements, like the booking a meeting, for long-term success. The tide continues to rise and ebb, but will it ever bring the master?
The legendary tale that I loved so much as a child, has become a cautionary one now that I am an entrepreneur. The lonely dog has reinforced the value of the Lean Startup approach to building a company. Lean methodologies help take the stupid loyal dog out of the equation and makes sure that the human behind the project can truly discern when to pivot or simply pull the plug.
I can’t say I have been the best lean practitioner. The loyal dog in me is a strong and hardheaded beast. At times I have held on to an idea for too long, avoiding clear signs of a dead end. I have gotten restless and tried mini-projects, ways to feel productive during the long waiting periods. These detours have only delayed finding out whether my original venture was viable or not.
You can’t just set out to make it happen. You can’t just sit on the rock and do what you know what how to do. You have to set milestones, run tests, and give yourself a deadline. Running lean can help you operate with discipline and keep you from standing there, blinded by loyalty, wishfully confusing the mist of a couple of random waves as a sign that the tide is changing and that your master will come after all.
As I get ready for another pilgrammage to SXSWi this week I look forward to learning from other entrepreneurs who face the same challenges.
I would love to hear of any examples of how lean methodologies have helped any of my readers pivot or simply put your startup to sleep.
If you’d like to contemplate these issues while taking in the view of waves crashing into a Spanish Fort, visit Puerto Rico. Here’s a link to a couple of hotels with a great view of our legendary dog.