Starting a business: When to trust your instincts?

Flavia Ibañez
Flavia Ibañez
  •  
March 1, 2021
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

During my career, I’ve helped many entrepreneurs by building their products; I’ve listened to their pitch, and they all sounded awesome! As an entrepreneur myself, I know that executing my idea is key to transforming it into a business.

Often, founders start executing on the product side first, but it is not always the right first step. Many entrepreneurs underestimate the challenge of transforming their ideas into a viable business. It is essential to understand the key aspects that will define a successful business before jumping into the weeds.

During this learning process, you figure out your priorities, making sure you are focusing on what are the most important activities first. You start making choices, weighing options, and fighting your own biases to stay objective.

Getting the priorities straight is easier said than done, but we can use our gut to our advantage.

Start by using a framework

Based on my experience, I’ve learned that our brain works better when it navigates simple structures that help break down entry barriers. Having a mental process that is familiar to us allows us to make choices more fluidly.

Experts like Eric Ries, who created Lean Startup, gave us tools and mental models that we can use to design our business ideas. With these tools, we can craft a compelling story and capture the key components that will help our idea become a viable business.

From there, we have seen how the Business Model Canvas (Alexander Osterwalder) and the Lean Canvas (Ash Maurya) have been the starting point for many innovations and new businesses.

Let your gut guide you

When I have used those tools in the past, I felt more in control, but I found it hard to weigh my overall confidence in the entire idea. My fears and lack of empiric validation pushed me to make the wrong judgments. Instead, I wondered, what if I start using my intuition to support my decision-making process?

Once I mapped out my business using one of these canvases, I understood what areas I needed to test, validate or improve. Here is where my biases played a dangerous game.

Research on students' instincts when taking multiple-choice exams shows that our brains' metacognitive abilities give the brain a more sensitive tool for making correct choices. Students were asked to rate their confidence in their answers when making a choice, where the metacognitive abilities are at their most reliable point. The high confidence predicted when each response was more appropriate, but if not, they would go back to them and re-evaluate their choice.

That resonated with me, and I’ve decided to give it a try. When filling in my canvas, tracking my confidence helped me see what areas I should be focusing on: the ones with high confidence and no evidence and those with lower confidence. It was very insightful when I could see how my confidence went up or down based on new learnings after re-evaluating my progress.

After some time, if you apply this practice, you can look back and identify your thinking patterns and where they led you. Comparing your feelings with your peers provides alignment and valuable insights; you will have a better picture of your idea’s strengths and weaknesses.

Make it part of your thinking process

My partner and I started playing more and more with the idea of tracking our confidence, filling in the Lean Canvas in our tool. It helped us identify our weak spots and realize that some high confidence topics were pure assumptions.

Your intuition is not an exact science, but it does help you bring awareness to your thinking process. It challenges more than your business ideas, and it brings awareness to your own biases, which is critical to good decision-making.

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