You are working too hard on the wrong thing

Fred Wilson wrote a great post today about working too hard and not getting anywhere, something I’ve felt intensely over the past seven years since I started my first company. 

But while working too hard and not getting anywhere can be solved by something as elegant as just changing the business model, there’s another scenario that’s not as easy to overcome: working too hard trying to solve the wrong problem.

A few years ago I founded a startup called BrainTV, aiming to build a new type of media company, targeting what we called “smart people”. The concept was to produce video content on certain topics (business, investment, art, theatre) that would be partly informative, partly entertaining (think of it like The Economist meets The New Yorker). I thought it was a good idea at the time but in hindsight – there were so many holes in the whole thing, I don’t even know where to start. We were trying to solve an innexistent problem. We were also perceived as arrogant and even worse, the content wasn’t that good. When I acknowledged that, I shut it down. It took 12 months. 

I see a lot of this most recently through my involvement with the Digital Catalyst Fund and I’ve become quite upfront with founders whenever I see it. However, not once have I seen a founder accept that they may be working on the wrong thing, which I can understand as they’ve invested so much time and effort into their idea. 

The solution to this is for investors, friends and families to stop being nice. It’s hard to tell the truth when you know it will hurt, but if an idea is shit you would be doing that founder a much bigger favour if you say it’s shit rather than letting them bang their head against the wall for 12 months. 

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