You know what’s even worse than someone hating your idea? When they like it!

Marc Randolph
4 min readNov 29, 2021

“That Will Never Work.”

It’s what every innovator hears over and over again. In my 40 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve heard it thousands of times. I know just how discouraging it can be.

But you know what’s even worse than someone hating your idea? When they like it!

Both are bad signals. As William Goldman once wrote, “nobody knows anything” — there simply is no way to know in advance whether an idea is good or bad. Despite everyone’s well-meaning advice (positive and negative) the only way you’ll ever know for sure if your idea is a good one is by trying it.

But the reason that praise is worse than disdain is because “that will never work” is almost always right. Whereas the person who tells you your idea is going to “revolutionize the world” is inevitably wrong.

All those people who told me my ideas would never work? They were right; those ideas didn’t work. But that was never the point. Our job as entrepreneurs is not to come up with great ideas (which is an unreasonably high hurdle). And our job is certainly not to keep running ideas past people until we find one they like. Our job is to figure out WHY an idea isn’t good. Our charge is to slowly but surely keep trying things… and test after test, customer insight after insight, iterate our way to an idea that does.

If you think about it this way, then discouragement is actually encouragement. But praise has the opposite effect. It’s a false positive. By leading you to believe that “you’re on to something” it delays the moment you’re forced to collide that idea with reality. Even worse, it might give you the misplaced confidence that you can skip the validation step altogether.

It’s a dangerous trap for any entrepreneur, and it’s why I’m especially excited for you to meet Erik — founder of Dibbsi — and my guest on Episode Nine of my That Will Never Work podcast.

Erik has had an idea that he’s been lovingly nurturing for eight years. (Yes… you read that right… eight years).

Largely encouraged by the positive reinforcement he’s gotten, he’s taken a straightforward dream — a service that matches gift wanters with gift-givers — and conjured up a still imaginary global service, embellished with hundreds of wonderful features, and beloved by millions of happy users — all without having ever taken that crucial first step of proving that people actually want the thing he’s proposing to build. My task: get Erik to stop thinking, and start doing.

Like most people, Erik had already heard my gem of entrepreneurial wisdom: “the most important step any entrepreneur can take is simply to start.” But this was a great chance to walk him through how that should happen. Exactly how does someone start the process of validating their idea without raising money, leaving school, quitting a day job, mortgaging their house, learning to code… or any of the other 2,552 excuses I’ve collected for not getting started.

The first tip I give to Erik is simply to start turning all that false encouragement into validation hacking. “The next time someone says to you, ‘what a great idea,’” I told Erik, “just say ‘Fantastic. I’m fundraising. Can you write me a check for a thousand dollars?’

Surprise surprise. Once you ask them to pull their credit card out and financially support the idea they’ve just spent 10 minutes praising, you’ll see them backpedaling as furiously as a Tour de France racer.

But a verbal test — even one backed by money — is only a small piece of it. How do you slice up your idea into components that can each be tested independently? How do you avoid building a minimal viable product (which I’ve always believed is building too much) and instead build an UN-viable one? Why should a repeatable scalable business model be the last thing that you want at this point?

It’s a great conversation and one that I think anyone who’s trying to turn their dream into a reality would benefit from.

If a 30-minute podcast isn’t your thing, you can get my advice in smaller audio doses on Clubhouse. I’m now doing weekly mentoring sessions every Tuesday at 5:00 PM pacific time, in the That Will Never Work club.

Regardless of how you choose to listen, if you do like what you hear don’t forget to follow me and/or leave your review.