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Just ask

At Matter Ventures, Corey Ford developed a method for figuring out a founder’s mindset early on. It went as follows.

We’d get the startup founders to figure out the biggest assumptions they were making across user risk (do people want this?), business risk (can this be the center of a viable business?), and feasibility risk (can we build this in a scalable way with the time, team, and resources potentially at our disposal?). And then we’d ask them to go out and figure out how to de-risk those assumptions in the real world, usually by talking to experts and asking smart questions.

The answers didn’t matter as much as how the founders reacted to those answers.

Some founders felt that confidence was the key. “We didn’t find any blockers,” they’d say. “We validated our plan.” Often they believed in their own expertise so much that they didn’t even fully test their assumption.

Other founders were transparent, discussed the issues they’d discovered with clarity and lack of hubris, and figured out what their next steps should be based on what they discovered.

Every time we invested in a founder from the first group, it was a deadly mistake. Founders who weren’t precious about their ideas and were willing to take a test-driven approach were exponentially more likely to succeed. It’s easier said than done - particularly when you’re emotionally invested in an aspect of your idea - but sometimes you have to let go to succeed.

I’ve found that outside of the investing world too: colleagues who were willing to say, “I don’t know, let’s ask” were significantly more effective than ones who tried to bluster through an answer or try and figure out a problem based on their own smarts alone. Time and time again, ego proves itself to be a kind of myopia.

A fixed mindset is never as good as a growth mindset. Everyone can learn something new, and it’s never a weakness to have to reach out and ask. Any time you find yourself saying, “I’m just going to assert that ...” in answer to an unknown, you need to stop, take a step back, and find someone who really knows.