Intuition And Vision - Do They Help Or Hinder A Startup?

Yesterday at Forward Partners we were lucky to welcome Michael Breidenbruecker, founder of Last.fm and RjDj.

He spoke with an attentive audience of entrepreneurs about his experience.

In the early days of Last.fm, they pursued a vision, which envisaged people consuming music online. This was back in 2000-2004, before iTunes, during the glory days of the CD. For year after year they pursued this vision with very little success. They didn't pivot. They didn't analyse. They didn't do customer discovery.

They didn't do any of the things that the lean startup movement advocates. They believed in their vision and eventually they succeeded. They worked from "gut feel".

Ultimately, Michael explained that the reason they eventually succeeded was not because the product needed to change but was because the market changed.

The product basically stayed the same all the way through. They achieved product-market fit by building a product based on inuition and gut feel designed for the future and when the future arrived, they were ready.

Some might say that they got lucky. Some might say they were determined and had belief.

If you know a market exists (or is going to exist) and you know how to solve the problem, sometimes intuition can be enough to realise the vision. In the case of Last.fm, gut feel took the founders to their eventual success. They understood the problem. They knew music would go online. They knew the problem of choosing something to listen to when the choice is unlimited.

They made a bet on the future that paid off.

When I think back to my first ever startup job at ifyouski.com, I acted too on intuition. I was in charge of building a ski holiday booking engine. I guess I was a Product Manager in today's language. We didn't research. We just did.

Having said that I had just spent the previous 6 years organising and selling ski holidays. I had spent hundreds of hours with holidaymakers in person as well as on the phone selling holidays. I knew how they made decisions, when they made decisions. I knew the personas. I knew the booking criteria. I knew the drama of booking on behalf of a group.

Not only did I know the customer needs, I knew the supplier needs. Our suppliers were specialist ski chalet tour operators and I had been one of them.

I didn't realise it but I had years of customer discovery under my belt. We knew the market existed. We just needed to make a great product.

Intuition, good intuition, is the automatic decision-making you get from having years of experience. Some entrepreneurs have this for the problem they are trying to solve, some don't. Some have the wisdom to know the difference.

There are always some things that need testing. A business model has many moving parts. Intuition can only go so far. Testing can speed up uncovering the gaps.

Coming back to the present, I'm now investing in and advising startups. I humbly hope that my own experience of working in startups and eCommerce businesses over the last 15 years has provided me with some useful intuition. I'm sure I've many gaps too.

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