How to Become a Master of Curiosity

May 9, 2014

8:02 am

This post includes extra content from Startup Mixology, my upcoming book on starting up – including how to prepare yourself for the harsh reality and celebrate positive moments along the way. Go here to pre-order the book (due July 8) and subscribe to updates. 

You may think you’re a curious person, but think again. Even if you’ve gotten lost reading Wikipedia or roaming through your city, you may still need to hone your entrepreneurs’ curiosity.

Beginners’ curiosity: about business

Zainab Zaki, former co-founder of TappedIn, says, “To dig deeper and to uncover hidden information, entrepreneurs have to be uncompromising when it comes to asking questions. Be a polite pest and ask lots of questions. Don’t be shy.”

Seek out the advice of mentors, read books, and follow thought leaders on Twitter. It’s so easy to assume that you know how to startup, you know marketing, you know fundraising. So when someone articulates an idea that clashes with yours, you just dismiss it. You don’t listen. You’re not curious.

Instead, like a young child, you need to be extremely inquisitive, ask a lot of questions, and absorb information. Leave your mind open to the possibility that you’re wrong, as long as you can. Startup know-how is constantly evolving, and you probably don’t have it all figured out.

Intermediate curiosity: about the market 

It’s even harder to stay curious when it comes to your competitors. What have they figured out that you haven’t? How is their product better? You might be tempted to shout “nothing!” and “it isn’t!” but that wouldn’t be very curious of you. Take a moment to observe and you may just learn something.

You can also be curious about other market conditions, like the rise and fall of trends and technologies, or an industry that is thriving or shrinking. You can hear the curious attitude in Patrick Sweeney, president and CEO of dwinQ. “Agility, focus, and discipline are key,” he says. “You have to think like a world-class athlete and always be ready for the unexpected, observe the situation and environment, make adjustments and act. Then do it all over again. The faster you can observe and then act in a marketplace, the easier it is to beat an opponent.”

Advanced curiosity: about your customers

One of the biggest mistakes for entrepreneurs is to assume you know what your customers want, even if you’re in your own target demographic. You may have big plans for the product you want to build in a year, and you try to interpret everything your customers say as fitting into that. You cling to your vision, rather than reality.

Damien Patton, founder of Banjo, told a Tech Cocktail audience, “At the end of the day, we’re all here because of the user. It’s up to them to give us feedback and we’re listening to them, and through that we just innovate. And it’s exciting because every time [the user asks for something], we just make it happen, and we couldn’t have dreamt that up six months ago or a year ago.”

Saras Sarasvathy, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, studied how successful entrepreneurs think. She found that they are suspicious of predictions about the future, like forecasts or business plans. Instead, they have a broad vision and are flexible about the outcome or the solution they end up building. If you stick stubbornly to a vision that isn’t working in reality, you often fail. Curiosity about business skills, the market, and your customers will keep you on the right path.


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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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