I was recently schooled on the importance of the “First Follower” in entrepreneurial startups, and the class was fully resonant. In fact, I’m fairly embarrassed that I hadn’t realized the First Follower’s role before now. Because it is essential.
The key here is that there isn’t much difference between a crazed whackjob and a brave new leader, at least not at first glance, and sometimes not even with the benefit of another look. Is that guy crazy, or just inspired?
Let’s face it, we’ve all known for a long time that the #1 attribute of a entrepreneur is self-denial. After all, the entrepreneur is going to hear constantly that It cannot be done, can’t be funded, can’t be built (or built affordebly), can’t be brought to market, can’t be (easily) sold, etc. etc. Even the well-intended supporters can’t seem to stop themselves from pointing out the difficulties… and the entrepreneur has to ignore this input, has to practice self-denial and forge on ahead anyway.
But therein is the paradox. An entrepreneur that ignores hard facts, hard constraints, and good advice… does so at their peril. So how to balance the confidence to go on, no matter what, with the wisdom to listen and observe?
As we wonder about the individual on the whackjob-to-brilliance continuum, there is a test that almost everyone else is unconsciously waiting for: the First Follower.
This brief, 6 minute TED talk by Derek Sivers (founder of CD Baby, and quite a whackjob himself) you’ll see a vivid explanation of the concept: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement.html
While we can lionize the courage of brave leaders, the most important test isn’t their idea (or themselves) but whether they can attract a First Follower. As Sivers explains, the First Follower models for everyone else, what they should do.
Because the esteemed leader isn’t actually modeling the desired behavior. He’s out in front, doing something crazy. The First Follower is literally and figuratively the model of what the rest of us need to do, the catalyst from crazy idea to brilliance.
Obviously, that isn’t sufficient for success, but it is absolutely necessary. And if you think about it, investors, journalists, candidate employees, and definitely customers are looking for it.
Think about it.