Taking the leap: Developing conviction in your startup idea


It isn't just a simple as believing in yourself, even if it boils down to that. Learn how to develop strong conviction in your startup idea, while also maintaining a growth mindset.

There’s one more ingredient to starting a successful business apart from a great idea, a well-timed market, and stellar execution: strong conviction.

In this guide, we’ll discuss:
  • How to get comfortable with failure
  • What the founder’s timeline looks like
  • Developing conviction in an idea

Get comfortable with failure

Most startups fail (20 percent within the first year, 75 percent within 15 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). And, many “successful” companies are younger than you think. It takes a lot to survive as a business. But instead of letting that deter you, let it inspire you to move past the paralyzing fear of failure.

The most successful companies in the world have failed a lot to get to where they are, and are still “failing” along the way. These companies might have seemed lucky in hindsight, but are in fact more gritty than anything. Confinity was built to “beam” payments to Palm Pilots but when that entire premise failed (where are the Palm Pilots?), they kept going and eventually became Paypal. This truth extends past business and into art, sport, and life. New York Times Bestselling series and iconic publishing success Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times. Even the modern icon of genius, Albert Einstein, once said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

The business journey has less to do with mitigating failure and more to do with meeting it head on. After all, no one can predict the future, but anyone can cultivate their capacity for grit. Here are some tips:

  • Get outside your comfort zone, often
  • Set output goals 
  • Reframe failure as feedback
  • Detach your ego from failure
  • Fail often, and fail small
  • Ask why it didn’t work, recognize what did

You’re not failing until it’s over. Along the way, it’s just a series of tests, risks, and bets you’ll make, ultimately to develop a better product.

The founder’s timeline

The early-early stages

Anyone can start the process of conducting research and taking steps to move forward in building a business. Here are some things that you can do in the part-time, side hustle stage: 

  • Understand the market and problem
  • Come up with a business name
  • Conduct early customer research
  • Build an MVP (Minimum viable or valuable product)
  • And with most businesses, you can even make revenue in early stages depending on your product, business model, and capacity as a founder/team

But at some point you’re faced with the decision: when to take the leap? 

When to make the leap

There’s no right or wrong answer, but here are questions to ask to determine how to make the right choice:
  • Do you have runway?
  • Do you have a scalable business model?
  • Is there urgency to launching the business?
  • Are you fully committed?
  • What else is going on in your life?
  • Do you have investors?

Developing conviction

Developing conviction in your idea isn’t just good for overcoming failure: it also translates into a strong sales pitch for when you’re presenting your business to future investors, customers, employees, and media. 

It’s not something that develops instantly and although we’re often told to fake it until you make it, developing conviction is often about being well-prepared. If you’re not fully convinced, you can’t convince others. 

Conviction in your business and how you relay that to others requires a deep understanding of the answers to these two questions:

Why now? (The market)

A PEST analysis is used to understand the Political, Economic, Social, and Technological market forces that affect your startup and its validity as an idea. Can you explain through each of those lenses why your business will be successful? Why specifically now and not ten years ago, for example? This sense of urgency will be part of your conviction that this is the right time for the right idea. 

If you haven’t yet done a PEST analysis, you may not think that you have the answers to these, but when you start to work through them and do your research, you’ll be able to better understand why intuitively you felt this was a great idea. And it’ll strengthen your own conviction as well as help you better articulate it to others.

Why you? (The team)

Apple and Intel early investor Arthur Rock said “I invest in people, not ideas. […] If you can find good people, if they are wrong about the product, they’ll make a switch, so what good is it to understand the product that they are making in the first place?”

People are the true multiplier of a great idea, if you consider that “execution” is just another way to say “what people do”. 

A great team, even if it’s just you, is made up of grit, the capability to make good decisions, a drive for growth, and the ability to lead others. Founder-market fit—or how well you as the founder fit the business idea—comes into play here too. 

You don’t have to be the best or most impressive candidate to make it in business. But you have to develop a strong awareness of your strengths and skills and why you’re the right fit. Why you? Don’t focus on all the reasons you can’t: you’ll convince yourself there are many. 

Find the yeses. Is it your absolute obsession with the problem? A personality that your target customer has always gravitated toward? A decade of experience supporting business owners as an accountant? It’s not one single thing nor everything, but the right combination of things that makes you perfectly unique and well-positioned to solve the problem in the way that you propose to do so.

There’s an important addendum to this: startup founders are disproportionately male and white, and the data is even more disproportionate when it comes to VC-backed startup founders. Those who don’t fall into this norm have been shown to underestimate their abilities and/or talk themselves out of having the confidence it takes to believe they can, disqualifying themselves from the game before they’ve even entered it. If this is you, yes you can. Go for it.  

It’s all just a test

Lean business strategy is fond of constant iteration and testing, a cycle adopted widely by technology and software companies to many great successes, in many ways rejecting the tenets of traditional business strategy, which focuses on extensive research and planning. But, it’s not either/or. 

There are so many companies that are completely different from where they started that it’s practically proven that success isn’t about sticking to the plan, but instead about having the grit and confidence to take leaps when you need to, pivot when you have to, then rinse and repeat over and over again. But being well-prepared can help you do all of that, smarter and better. You’ll still keep failing (that’s a given), and if you’re lucky, you can just call them the tests that helped you build something that matters to people and impacts them in a positive way. Now get out there and test your business idea.

Here's your checklist to better understand if you've developed strong conviction in your startup idea:
- How are you feeling about failure? Have you gotten comfortable with the understanding that it is inevitable?
- Have you thought through the 'why now' for your idea?
- Could you convince others that now is the time for your idea to move forward?
Have any ideas or suggestions to improve this article?