Don’t worry about your third boyfriend before you have your first
How founders distract themselves with unpressing issues
Last year, I was teaching a lean startup module at the Global School 4 Entrepreneurship. In this module, my students should learn to identify and test risky assumptions—if I do my job right.
Most startups in class are very early-stage, so they are riddled with assumptions, risk and uncertainty.
On a Monday morning, while students and I were still waking up, a student fired up her experiment results presentation. This slide popped up:
“Don’t worry about your 3rd boyfriend when you have to start dating your first one”
That sounded familiar. The class started to laugh. I remember all of a sudden. I told her that last week.
This founder aimed to set up a female-led impact investment fund. The week prior, she felt that a key risk was: “Via what metrics should I communicate how impactful my fund is?”
A week later she presented to us: This was a 3rd boyfriend problem.
She didn’t have any people that committed money to the fund yet. Nor did she have questions from potential investors about the metrics.
This is a perfect example of the 3rd boyfriend problem: A problem that will only start to exist when some key milestones are hit.
And, I was happy to see that this idea helped her to recognise that. Great effort.
I’m not saying that the question on metrics will never be relevant. The question was: Is it the most relevant question right now? She reasoned: no.
What is a third boyfriend problem?
Third boyfriend problems are problems that might be challenging in the future but are not pressing now. This type of problem exists only if you are successful. These problems distract from reaching that success.
3rd boyfriend problems are not just simply distant problems. Let’s say you have a company that sells beer. All of a sudden, some wacky politician who never gets invited to parties decides to ban alcohol starting next year. Petty move, indeed.
Even though the next year is months away, this is a truly fundamental problem for your startup today. This is not a 3rd boyfriend problem.
Third boyfriend problems are problems that only exist if you reach some great, impressive milestones. Like having two boyfriends (#polysquad).
3 examples of 3rd boyfriend problems
All of the examples come from the current cohort of my pre-incubator course. Many thanks for their openness in sharing their experiences with us and for giving me permission to use these anecdotes.
1. Leakage on a non-existing platform
Case: Scenery, a startup that sets up workplace swaps between companies, workcations. For a week, your team works in a different city in a proper workspace.
The team was worried about whether successful swaps would not use their platform for a second swap. The companies could just contact each other directly.
At that point, they were handcrafting their first pilot, having about a dozen commits from various companies. However, they didn’t have any completed swaps yet, let alone a company that swapped twice.
In marketplace terms, transactions happening outside of your platform are called leakage. Is leakage a relevant concern for marketplaces? Yes. Is it something you should spend the majority of your time on before having your first match? Maybe not.
I would only fix leakage when it occurs. Design your platform around it, if possible. Or accept it’s part of double-commit marketplaces.
Join their beta
Want to swap workplace in a cool inspiring city? Or want more information?
Get in contact with Scenery by clicking here!
2. Can we charge money if we automate this
Case: Accuselect, a startup that aims to make process of installing and subsidising home batteries easier.
Getting a home battery can be a lucrative move. Getting it installed and subsidized is a pain in the ass.
Right now, this startup is manually helping its first customers through this process. They already have battery installers in the queue.
For this service, the startup charges a fixed fee of €300. Ultimately, they want to automate parts of this process with online tooling.
When we were having a drink, one of the founders notified me of a concern: “Can we charge money for this consulting if it’s automated?”
Again, a valid concern. Yet, without having charged anyone for their pilots yet, maybe not an issue for now. It’s something to keep in mind that might be a challenge ahead.
When I shared a draft of the article with the team, a member notified me that he didn’t think it was a big concern. This is not about calling out one founder, but more about showing how problem perceptions are different within a team.
Join their beta
Do you want to get a home battery without fuss?
Join their pilot by clicking here (Belgium focused)
3. Do we need a technical co-founder
Case: Hii, a startup that builds mental health resillience of students by hosting offline peer support sessions.
Their first pilots had very happy customers. They are not sure how they want to scale their business. Is the offline session a USP or not? If they were to build technology to scale, they would require a technical co-founder.
They highlighted this as a third boyfriend problem. They noted that they first should visit the limits of doing it manually, before making that step. I think I agree, but, there’s a catch.
If it’s extremely likely that you are going to swerve into the technical realm, like 90% sure, you might want to start looking now. Technical co-founders are much sought after and it can take quite some time to find one.
Join their beta
Do you want to work to deal with stress, learning to say no or discover your strenghts?
Click here to join their pilot
Third boyfriend problems are problems that could be pressing but are not right now
They only become pressing if you hit certain milestones
Problems are subjective: not everyone sees the same situation as a problem
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