Steven Cohn

Company: Validately Industry: Technology

Validately is a company that provides tools for testing product ideas before spending resources on development. This is Steven’s third venture, so we sat down with him to get his perspective on starting a business.

What was the biggest surprise as an entrepreneur?

I was surprised how long it takes to truly find that elegant solution that is ten times better than anything else out there. It’s not as simple as identifying a problem and just building a solution. That solution or product takes many iterations to get right. It takes a while to develop that simple, elegant solution for your customers’ problem.

What is a sign that you should not be an entrepreneur?

If you cannot build the team necessary to realize your vision. You need to build a team and convince them to follow a vision with a low probability of success. You don’t need to have every skill yourself, but if you also cannot find others who want to join you, it may be a sign you’re not ready to be an entrepreneur or that your idea isn’t good enough.

How did you know you were ready to be an entrepreneur?

No one is ever ready, just like you’re never ready to be a parent, but when I started my first company I was about as ready as I could have been. With my work experience and what I learned at HBS, I had the hard skills necessary, but I still didn’t know everything I needed at that point. But that was OK because, based on my experiences, having a set plan is fairly useless because things change so quickly and regularly.

It’s like what they say about great war leaders: they go into battle having done a lot of planning, but also know that most of that goes out the window when the battle starts. In startups, you have to go at it and just keep iterating. You cannot be married to that initial plan.

So, I was confident in my abilities, but I definitely didn’t feel “ready.” Don’t assume that if you check this box or that box, you’re ready to be an entrepreneur.

Why should people pay attention to HBS in Alums in the Alley?

You can learn a lot from people who have looked at the same set of problems and solved them. Regardless of what product or industry you work in, business problems are consistent and not really unique. The opportunity to network and see case studies to help solve your business problems should absolutely be taken advantage of.