8 Startup Myths (or, 8 Church Planting Myths)

In “From Stanford to Startup,” the creators of the iPhone app Instagram discuss 8 startup myths. Instagram is used by 4 million people to share 6 photos per second. Here are the myths and some takeaways for church planting ministries.

Myth #1: You can learn to be an entrepreneur from a blog, book or talk.
Restated: You can learn to be a church planter from a blog, book or talk.
Truth: 1 day on the job is better than a year in a book.
Best thing to learn: how to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty.
Side note: Mission agencies could learn a lot from VC incubators that help startups succeed.
“The only thing users care about is the product you ship–not who your investors are, or whether you are an entrepreneur.”

Myth #2: Startups can only be started by computer science students.
Restated: Church plants can only be started by theology/seminary students.
Truth: Many startups by people who never went to college (or dropouts).
MS, Google dropouts. Twitter team never went to college. “Sink or swim” school of engineering. Generalists are perfect. Build relationships to people with specialized pieces of knowledge.

Myth #3: Finding the solution to the problem is the hardest part.
Truth: Finding the problem to solve is the hardest part.
It’s easy to build solutions to problems no one have. Test to see if people have the problems with rapid iterations & tests.
How do you know if you’re solving the right problems?
It’s okay to solve simple problems. Simple problems often become hard at scale.

Myth #4: Work for months building a robust product in secrecy, then launch to the world.
Stealth startups. How cool they sound.
Truth: You don’t get the feedback you need quickly enough.
Make your product public quickly.
Build the minimum viable product that answers “are we building the right thing”?
Don’t build past what you need to build to prove whether someone will use it.
Fail early and often, make failing as low cost as possible. Must fail to find the right solution. Assume from the start your first answer is not the right one. Fail your way to success. (“We’re failing too much, we need to move a bit to the right.”) Constant refinement of idea.”
See also: Whoever makes the most mistakes wins

Myth #5: Start a bidding war among VCs with a slick pitch deck.
Truth: Don’t go to a bunch of investors. Find the people you want to work with.
Raise only what you need to get off the ground (not that much)
Optimize for people, not valuation. You need people you get along with.
Focus on a prototype and traction, not a fancy pitch deck. Prototypes are more powerful than graphs.
Look at Venture Capital as a part of your team, who you are hiring.
Instagram spent $60,000 to get off the ground. Shoestring budget.
See also: Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint

Myth #6: Starting a company = Building a product
Truth: Starting a company is 50% building a product, 50% other stuff
Recruiting, building, managing a team, raising capital
Bank accounts, taxes, forms, insurance, office, oh my.
See also: The E-Myth Revisited, which talks about the various aspects of running a business

Myth #7: Successful startups come from a single great idea
Truth: It’s not the epiphany. Entrepreneurship is a build up process.
First idea is likely not the last one
Your job is to explore the solution space
Themes will follow you
Sharing and discussing helps
”Ideas are combinatorial”: take different parts of ideas and put them together
See also: Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation, fantastic book on this subject. Worth $10.

Myth #8: Great startups happen overnight.
Truth: “Twitter was an overnight success that took five years.” –Biz Stone
Success comes from the foundations you’ve built along the way
Even with the right idea, you’re fighting to the next hill
Success is obvious in retrospect, but reality it’s never that clear.
”It is a long slog. … it’s like a lifetime commitment in some ways.”
4 people in our office, for 4 million users.

18 things that kill Pioneer Missions

Adapted from “Startup mistakes,” cross-pollinated and applied to mission.

“one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want.” We all need the Gospel. We don’t all want the Gospel. We therefore have to present the Gospel in a way that is spiritually attractive – in a way that is a blessing – (without watering it down.)

The 18 mistakes:

1. Single Founder. Missions send people out in teams, generally speaking. YWAM always requires new bases have a team. We at MUP recruit to teams (even if the team is a broader affinity block or cluster facilitator team). To have one founder “is a vote of no confidence; it means the founder couldn’t talk any of his friends into starting the company with him… Starting a startup is too hard for one person.” Need people to generate ideas, “talk you out of stupid decisions, cheer you up when things go wrong.”

2. Bad location. Startup “hubs” are better for startups than other locations. “Standards are higher; people are more sympathetic to what you’re doing; the kind of people you want to hire want to live there; supporting industries are there; the people you run into in chance meetings are in the same business.” The same is true of pioneer mission: some places are better than others, because there is a greater likelihood of running into a Person of Peace.

3. Marginal niche. “Choosing a small, obscure niche in the hope of avoiding competition… if you make anything good, you’re going to have competition.” Do we go to places where it is “easier” in order to avoid competition/persecution? Are we “shrinking from big problems”? (Why are more people working among minorities in Thailand than among the Thai, for example?)

4. Derivative Idea. “Many of the applications we get are imitations of some existing company.” The principles of a pioneer mission & CPM are universally applicable, but the individual tactics have to change from situation to situation. Just because an all-night prayer meeting or 24-hour prayer house worked in one spot doesn’t mean it will work somewhere else.

5. Obstinancy. “Startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads. So don’t get too attached to your original plan, because it’s probably wrong… but openness to new ideas has to be tuned just right. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal.” Seth Godin’s written an excellent little book on this subject called “The Dip.” Jesus spoke to this when he talked about leaving a town that was not responsive.

6. Hiring Bad Programmers. Or Bad Disciple-makers.

7. Choosing the wrong platform. “How do you pick the right platform? The usual way is to hire good programmers and let them choose.”

8. Slowness in launching. “Startups make all kinds of excuses for delaying their launch.” Missions do too.

9. Launching too early. “The danger here is that you ruin your reputation.” In a pioneer context, probably the equivalent here is launching before you have adequate language/cultural acquisition – or perhaps launching too big. (“Go slow to go fast.”)

10. Having no specific user in mind. Which sociopolitical grouping are you trying to reach as a start? You can’t reach all 100 million of group X – you’re going to start somewhere. The approach and platform has to be tailored to the sub-group.

11. Raising too little money. A pioneer mission is a significant enterprise and should be treated as such, in my view. The average strategic missionary unit probably needs a budget of about $100,000 per year for most places (when you consider programs, travel, plus personal expenses etc).

12. Spending too much. “Burning through too much money is not as common as it used to be. Founders seem to have learned that lesson. Plus it keeps getting cheaper to start a startup… classic way to burn through cash is by hiring a lot of people.” You don’t need a big team to effect change.

13. Raising too much money. “Once you take a lot of money it gets harder to change direction…”

14. Poor investor management. “You shouldn’t ignore them, because they may have useful insights. But neither should you let them run the company. That’s supposed to be your job. If investors had sufficient vision to run the companies they fund, why didn’t they start them?”

15. Sacrificing users to (supposed) profit. Or, building a large congregation or denomination at the expense of empowering individual believers to make disciples. You get a huge first generation – but that’s it. Multi generational growth is difficult if not impossible.

16. Not wanting to get your hands dirty. “Nearly all programmers would rather spend their time writing code and have someone else handle the messy business of extracting money from it.” Most evangelists would rather evangelize themselves than teach others to evangelize. Ditto for any missionary gift. “If you’re going to attract users, you’ll probably have to get up from your computer and go find some.”

17. Fights between founders. “Surprisingly common… about 20% of the startups we’ve funded have had a founder leave… A founder leaving doesn’t necessarily kill a startup, though… Most of the disputes I’ve seen could have been avoided if they’d been more careful about who they started a company with.”

18. A half-hearted effort. “The most common type of failure is not one that makes spectacular mistakes, but the one that doesn’t do much of anything–the one we never even hear about, because it was some project a couple guys started on the side while working their day jobs, but which never got anywhere and was gradually abandoned… Statistically, if you want to avoid failure, it would seem like the most important thing is to quit your day job.” How does this translate to bi-vocational pastors? Do bi-vocationals start movements?