Are you polishing a turd?

The ultimate test of a founder is to take the red pill.

To start a company requires a type of zealotry that is unique among founders who bend the future, stretch the truth and ignore reality.

This zero to one skill is startup 101. To get something new off the ground requires a belief and a team of believers and the only way to do it is to sell — and then buy into — the religion.

Belief is a powerful inhibitor to the truth.

I took over as the CEO for a company in the fitness industry where the story was so compelling and so innovative. Because of that, it overshadowed the fact that it simply didn’t work. I’ll never forget visiting our only client that had installed the product and them asking me to remove it because it was harming their business.

The product wasn’t ready but the whole company was convinced it was so we overcompensated to make our wish that reality. We even regularly flew people across the country to maintain the product — including to put units on chargers when the batteries ran out.

This had no potential to scale. We fell in the love the idea, sold that idea but delivered a turd.

It wasn’t that the product wouldn’t eventually work or there wouldn’t eventually be demand for it — that would be proven years later. We fell into a system of belief that what and how we were building and selling was ready and people were willing to buy it. It wasn’t and they weren’t.

When an objection would arise, we would compensate by adding a feature. When something broke, we sent a human to fix it. We built whole products to make the main product work. When usage was still flat we sent a team of people to train users how to use it. We did all of it for 1 installation in 1 location.

The harshest part of this was it took an outsider like me to say the obvious truth. I know that people felt it inside the company. I know the board and investors had a sense that something wasn’t right or they wouldn’t have asked me to come in. I knew the founders struggled with the duality of what they were saying and what they were seeing.

There are so many signs you are polishing a turd:
– You keep spending more and more on SEM and results stay the same
– You continue to add features to sell because the main concept isn’t
– You add pricing tiers to pull more revenue too early
– You find yourself saying “they don’t get it” about your customers
– Your churn rate is higher than your gym mark in grade school

Listen to that little voice telling you something isn’t working. Talk to customers if you have any. Use your product in the real world (not in your lab). Take the pill. Be objective. Crucify your beliefs and ask the hardest question you can as a founder:

Am I polishing a turd.