Everything You Need to Know About Startups, You Can Learn From Mythbusters

I’m in the midst of another startup, with three friends, and we’re having a great time.  I realized last night how perfectly you can prepare for one of these adventures by studying one of my favorite TV shows, Mythbusters.  If you don’t know it, then you should probably stop reading and go watch an episode.

I reject your reality and substitute my own” – Adam

The core of every startup I’ve done is an overmastering conviction that you are doing something deeply important and new – that you have stumbled on an insight that nobody else understands as deeply and powerfully as you do.  You gather around you a small band of people with a similar conviction to pursue your crazy dream together.  Your day is not full of reviews and alignment meetings and sync-ups and constrained by “the way we do things here”.  You do them any damn way you please, and nobody around you is a naysayer.  Naysayers are not welcome and do not flourish in startups.  Only obsessive true believers, please.

They don’t just tell the myths, they put them to the test” – Narrator

The danger, of course, is that you might all be wrong.   Startups are highly prone to groupthink.  The brilliant vision you are chasing with all your heart and soul might not be something anyone wants.  To quote another sage, John Maynard Keynes has a great line about this: “It is astonishing what foolish things one can temporarily believe if one thinks too long alone.”

So, you have to mix in a ruthless focus on testing your ideas with customers.  This is the heart of the Lean Startup methodology, which I love and which we are using at Highspot.  You build something as quickly as possible that lets you evaluate your beliefs, and then you adapt based on what you find.  Just like the Mythbusters crew is constantly trying ideas, having their approach fail, and trying again and again, a startup is a succession of attempts to find a model that yields a product people want to use and a way to make money from it.

As Kari says, “I guess we don’t have a Plan B because we kinda expected Plan A to go off without a hitch.”  Adam’s response will resonate with most (successful) entrepreneurs:  “You should never, ever, ever expect Plan A to go off without a hitch. Usually, Jamie and I, it’s Plan D.”  Or in a startup, Plan Z.

And with any luck, you will end up with a conviction that is “Confirmed” and not “Busted”.

Failure is always an option” – Adam

One of the realities of startup life is that they mostly fail.  Going in, you have to have a crazy passionate belief that you can succeed, but you also know that the odds are not in your favor and you can’t allow yourself to be crushed if it doesn’t work out.  As Kari says, “If we’re wrong about this, we’re going to have a really bad day.”  But you have to embrace that possibility and forge ahead anyway.  I’ve met many people in comfortable big company jobs that talk about doing a startup .. but can’t bring themselves to leave their “gilded cage”.

“We have no idea what we’re doing.” – Grant

Another thing I love about startups and Mythbusters is the perpetual willingness to dive in and just figure something out you have no idea how to do.  You don’t apprentice with the person who has 20 years experience, you don’t go to school and get a degree .. you just dive in and make out the best you can.  And you mess up a lot.  Hence the Facebook mantra that they have tried to maintain to this day – “move fast and break things”.  Most large companies have long since lost that spirit by the time they get big and successful.  In a startup, if it needs to be done, you just do it.  By hook or by crook, the best you can, as quickly as possible, and with energy and passion.

If I had any dignity, that would have been humiliating” – Adam

If you are concerned about remaining in control and maintaining your dignity, go somewhere else where your needs will be respected.  Like honey badgers , “startups don’t care”.  You do what needs to be done.  But there’s a really great thing about it, too: “It’s funny what gets us excited, isn’t it?” – Jamie.  You will end up getting passionate about really oddball things that you don’t think twice about when other people are doing them for you – setting up your email hosting, picking desks for the office, stocking the frig with supplies.  It’s like parents getting excited and emotional about the minutiae of raising and taking care of the kids.

You SO wish you were me right now.” – Adam

When it all works, it’s just one of the best feelings in the world.  You dream up some concept, you band together with a group of kindred spirits, and you make magic out of thin air.  As Tory says, “Do ya think I’m excited? You better believe I’m excited. We just built a rubber moose and now we’re gonna crash cars into it. It doesn’t get better than this!

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