Lessons Learned: Passion Holds Out

Paul Dariye is a first year graduate student in the Management of Technology program at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Before NYU, Paul was in Northern Cyprus. Paul has had an eventful journey since leaving Nigeria in 2009 to further his studies. 

The 5-Day Lean Launchpad with Steve Blank remains the most challenging and engaging class I’ve taken to date at NYU. It was a very electrifying experience. From a road trip to New Jersey to a party organized by Google, those five days felt like much more than just a class. For those five days, my partners and I were founders, and we bore the weight many startups bear right now: uncertainty.

My partners were two amazing people: Marc Gamss (our devil’s advocate) and Elizabeth Choo (our organizational whiz). Without them I can say categorically that I would have pivoted to a completely different idea after the second day.

We spoke to 63 customers: 51 end users (fashion duds), 1 advertiser, 7 stylists, and 4 store managers. Take if from me, customer discovery is hard but it is probably the most rewarding activity any startup can engage in, especially early on. Customer discovery lets you know if you are making something someone will pay to use. It helps you discover the need your grand idea satisfies.

I left with a few key takeaways that changed the way I think about entrepreneurship. For a startup to succeed, it needs passionate founders. Passion is what will drive you to quit a well paying job, to breakaway from friends and family in order to pursue an idea, a vision or even a dream. An idea in and of itself holds no value until it can be put to promising use. Passion is the fire that keeps you searching for this ‘promising use’ day-in and day-out. Passion can fuel your idea from a mere scribble on a piece of paper to a product in the homes of real people. Without passion you are likely to pivot at every turn or even quit.

Et al, our startup during those 5 days, ran with the passion of co-founder Elizabeth. She spurred us to life when we hit a few moments of despair, especially after the second day. On that fateful day, we got run over by comments our instructors made; they tore apart most of our initial hypotheses, and our inability to find patterns in what customers were saying further confounded the problem. In hindsight, they were spot on.

Choosing the right team can make or break your billion-dollar idea. Having the right people will get you through the most difficult time your startup will every face: finding paying customers. My team, during those five days, had the perfect mix. I stem from a technical background and my co-founders from business backgrounds. But it wasn’t so much our backgrounds, it had more to do with our personality and character. Marc questioned everything which caused us to think critically about our hypotheses well before we even left the building to talk to customers. Elizabeth sought perfection. She wanted things done and done right.

In just 5 days, we were able to scrutinize each part  of the business model canvas. Our initial guesses became less so after each customer we interacted with. We were able to narrow down our customer segments and as a result our corresponding value proposition to each segment. At the end of 5 days, we had created a promising business model. Starting a business is simple, and honestly doesn't require much in this internet age; however, establishing a successful business requires you to get out of the building and talk to customers!

I would like to thank the teaching team Frank Rimalovski, Lindsey Marshall Gray, Owen Davis, and Risa Cohn. Special thanks to Steve Blank.