I am fascinated by startups and love reading the stories behind successful and unsuccessful ventures. Here are 3 key themes I continue to see in my readings that apply to any business.
1. They listen. They listen to their customers and other people whose opinions matter. When I say “they,” I mean the actual founders. As Steve Blank and Bob Dorf state in their book, The Startup Owner’s Manual, “Rule No. 1: There are no facts inside your building, so get outside.” They remain as close to the customer as possible.
Gut Check: When was the last time you got outside and listened to your customers?
Listening in this way allows you to solve a problem the customer cares about. I just listened to a pitch yesterday about a service for vehicle owners. The idea made sense, it solved a problem but I was not convinced it solved a big enough problem. I told them they needed to get out and listen to potential customers.
2. They pivot. They treat their enterprise as a fluid experiment. They identify the variables and change them based on feedback to find the point of greatness. Here is a great video about how companies such as Zappos, Intel, and Instagram see the “pivot.”
Gut Check: Where do you need to pivot in your business?
The first pre-requisite for pivoting is having the right information so you can hypothesize about what is going on, change a variable, and see what outcome it produces. If you don’t have good information, you will change things randomly, your results will be random, and any interpretation will be haphazard.
A second pre-requisite for a pivot is this:
Love your product or service enough to want to persevere in times of challenge and make it the best but do not be in love with it so that it hampers your ability to change it as needed to keep it relevant to the customer.
3. They get over it. They get over themselves. They get over the criticism. They get over the failure. They are not super-human. They personalize it. It hurts. They may wallow a bit. But then they move on. In a Fast Company article, Chris Johnson writes about his first failure, how he dealt with it, and then moved on to his current companies.
Gut Check: What criticism or failure do you need to let go of?
Holding on to criticism or failure is a sure way to invite more of the same. Figure out the underlying meaning of the criticism and failure, why you are internalizing it, brainstorm a way to deal with it, gather the support you need, and then move on. Your customers (or future customers) will thank you.