Lessons in Entrepreneurship: Keep your head down

It was around August of 2008. Spot.Us had not launched but we were actively and publicly building our site. Meanwhile a startup out of Israel, IAmNews.com, was taking the center stage at TechCrunch Disrupt and even won the “People’s Choice Award” out of the demo-pit.

I was doomed.

There was IAmNews.com with their already launched sleek fun design. Then there was Reporterist, which already had the editor of the Oakland Tribune praising the idea on their website via a sweet video. Meanwhile I was mapping 10 or so other sites that grazed, overlapped or downright plopped right on top of the Spot.Us idea I had swimming in my brain.

DOOMED I TELL YOU!!!!

The sheer weight of everything made me want to crawl into a cave and assume the fetal position until it came time to apply for law school.

What was I to do? I was talking to Reporterist, maybe we could combine? At least then I would be able to dodge responsibility somehow when IAmNews.com or any of the other cool VC backed sites utterly destroyed any possibility Spot.Us ever had at an iota of success.

I had my head turning in every single direction but down on the path ahead of me. It was Susan Mernit (that sage woman) who uttered the words “keep your head down.”

I go through phases. There are times when I pull my head up and assess the situation. When NewsTilt received Y-Combinator funding I took notice. After assessment I then put my head back down. I didn’t treat it like competition that I had to immediately respond to for several reasons. Despite making a big splash, time proved this decision to be the best use of my time.

When KickStarter launched, I poked my head up again and took notice. One thing I recognized was the beauty of their design. For those that don’t remember, Spot.Us originally had a three column design. I puke a little in my mouth when I look back on that. We borrowed a lot from Kickstarter’s design after we figured what worked and didn’t. That too was the best use of our time.

But let’s extrapolate out – this post isn’t about Spot.Us. It’s about launching something from scratch.

There will be competition. There will be projects that graze, overlap, or downright sit right on top of your project. The challenge is to pick and choose your battles.

I speak with a lot of young entrepreneurs who often feel as though they can’t launch their idea because it’s already out there. To that I say pshaw.

In the end – ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s execution that takes the cake. There are a million different ways I could have screwed the pooch with Spot.Us. One of them could have been if I panicked about IAmNews.com, Reporterist or any of the other startups that have since come and gone during the lifespan of Spot.Us. It’s hard to keep your head down, especially working online where things do appear to move a mile a minute. Believe me, I know the feeling. It’s a sense of adrenaline and anger when you see a site that could potentially make your efforts obsolete. But it’s important to take a deep breathe when that feeling washes over you and remember the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

(Next blog post will be on how “42″ is the answer to all your sustainability, revenue and financial questions).

There are times and aspects of a startup you’ll need to run in a sprint. Dealing with competition is not necessarily one of those parts. Rather treat that like a marathon. Size them up over a period of time. Who knows, they might even be positive partners in the future. Or it could be that a rising tide lifts all boats. Or they could be running a different race entirely. You’ll never know if all you do is stare at everyone else around you whizzing by.

Sometimes it’s important to just keep your head down.

3 thoughts on “Lessons in Entrepreneurship: Keep your head down

  1. Good words. I think I’ll apply the “keep your head down” motto to my grad school experience — and better yet, to life in general.

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