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The Hidden Beauty of Bad Ideas

· Entrepreneurship,Life Lessons

Courage without genius might not get you where you need to go but genius without courage certainly won’t.” - Marc Andreessen

According to James Altucher, one of The 20 Habits of Eventual Millionaires is to write down 10 ideas daily. This habit is essential because it turns into a superpower and equips adopters with the ability to spot the beauty in bad ideas. On the podcast, Master’s of Scale, host Reid Hoffman recently talked to several CEOs about their adversities. However, he honed in on the journey of Tristan Walker, Founder, and CEO of Walker & Company Brands. Hoffman cleverly paints an isolated picture of entrepreneurship and analyzes why the most impactful ideas are often seen as contrarian in the early stages. Following, I outline Walker’s professional experiences, entrepreneurial journey, and show how our flawed beliefs about bad ideas somehow catapulted the success of his company’s flagship product; Bevel (It also makes the perfect Father's Day gift).

Set very clear-cut goals

Walker’s goal from childhood was to get as wealthy as possible as quickly as possible. He quickly realized there were one of three ways to make this goal a reality: 1) Become an actor or an athlete 2) Work on Wall Street or 3) Go into entrepreneurship. He ventured onto Wall Street for two years, hated it, and transitioned to Stanford Graduate School of Business. At Stanford, Walker wasn’t just a business student; he was a fan of every technological shift around him. This was also at a period where Twitter was embraced by a few and ridiculed by most. Walker first understood the potential of seemingly bad ideas when he was able to confirm in seconds (via Twitter) if MC Hammer would be performing at a Stanford event. This experience struck a light bulb moment as it helped pave his way into entrepreneurship.

Persistence takes you far, Prescience takes you farther

After comprehending the potential of bad ideas, Walker emailed twenty different people who had one or two degrees of separation from Twitter. Eventually, he was introduced to Evan Williams, Co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, which led to an internship at the company. Shortly after this internship ended, Walker emailed former CEO of Foursquare - Dennis Crawley – and didn’t receive a response until his eighth outreach. One conversation led to another and in about a month, he began running the Business Development department at Foursquare. The painful truth is most individuals who reach out cold don’t get a response. However, Walker succeeded because he targeted tiny early stage companies with twenty people or less and could also spot an undervalued idea ahead of his peers.

Pay attention to your frustrations

When Walker joined Foursquare, there were zero merchants and only three employees. By the time he left a few years later, there were a million merchants on the platform and 150 employees. Being that Walker now aligned his childhood vision of wealth with entrepreneurship, he went on to spend 9 months as an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Andreessen Horowitz - a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm - with aspirations of building a bank, fixing freight trucking, or tackling the obesity challenge. However, he rather grew frustrated about his shaving experience. As Richard Branson said, “Finding something frustrating and seeing an opportunity to make it better is what entrepreneurship is about.” Walker saw his opportunity to create. After an in-depth analysis of the shaving industry, he re-engineered a single blade razor from the early 1900s to create Bevel. Now, if we pay close attention to scalable ideas such as Uber and Airbnb, it’s evident they did not set out to tackle dramatic problems. Rather, they started out of frustration and tackled neglected problems.

Focus on the quality of rejections

Often times, those who love us most dissuade us from pursuing our goals. As a result, most aspiring entrepreneurs quit before they set out to create something substantial. Kara Goldin - Founder and CEO of Hint Water – had no plans on conforming to this trend. As a result, her drive and adamant nature always led her to assess the meaning behind each rejection received from a potential investor. Henceforth, the rejection from a major beverage company is what propelled Kara generate $90 million in annual revenues for her company. Walker's story shares a similar tune. In his scenario, he quickly moved on as soon as he spotted hesitation from an investor. In plain terms, he wanted to work with an investor who understood or was willing to understand the problem at hand, not one who was obsessed with why the idea may not work out. With such a unique approach to cultivating investor relationships, Walker is able to assess the points at which they may have begun losing interest. Such observation also assists him in better refining his pitch moving forward.

Cultivate an absolute competitive advantage

Walker once posed a simple question to himself; “What do I fundamentally feel that I am the best person in the world to do?” By asking this question, he became aware of his unfortunate shaving experience and his ability to raise money to tackle this exact frustration. He then concluded to himself that there is no other person on this planet that could solve this one problem like he could. According to Walker, the day he came up with that realization was the most freeing moment for him because he understood he was pursuing something worthwhile. Walker encourages entrepreneurs to really be thoughtful about this question, to slightly increase humility, to understand what they are qualified to do, and most importantly, to chase the bad ideas.

A friend once shared with me a joke about Silicon Valley’s culture; entrepreneurs have ideas but no capital, investors have no ideas but capital. As a result, Silicon Valley investors often tell entrepreneurs something to the tune of, “We want to invest in people who can execute with some sense of pedigree, chasing some significant whitespace, and a big opportunity” yet most great innovations - disguised as bad ideas - of entrepreneurs are rejected 99% of the time. This podcast episode encourages entrepreneurs to continuously assemble the resources and to keep jumping hurdles despite the high probability of rejection. According to Hoffman, what a team needs to hear is, “You guys are out of your mind” while others, say, “We see it, you want to polarize reaction.” That should be an indicator you are building a company the likes of LinkedIn, Airbnb, and Bevel.

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Jephthah Acheampong

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