Not too long ago I had a long conversation with a colleague whom I’ll call Peter about his start-up. He had given his all to his digital business, and it had grown, but it grew too fast. Peter and his team had plowed through the money to build institutional capacity, without keeping a careful eye on the revenue stream.
Most start-up organizations will not receive any start-up funding, even those in the digital and tech world. Let me give you some of the reality. In an article by David S. Rose, Founder and CEO, Gust, and described as “the Father of Angel Investing in New York” by Crain’s New York Business, he wrote:
“In very general terms, roughly 1,500 startups get funded by venture capitalists in the US, and 50,000 by angel investors. VCs look at around 400 companies for every one in which they invest; angels look at 40.”
As Peter and I sat together, we talked through everything about his business. As we shared experiences and ideas, there was nothing new that he didn’t know before our conversation. However, as he started to write the reminders down for what he had to do immediately to save his business, I was reminded of the points myself.
The first thing Peter recognized as we spoke is that he had to keep the rush to wanting to do something, anything, at bay. To move forward, he needed to take a step back, or at least pause, and survey everything that was in front of him regarding his business. And, once Peter was able to clearly see the landscape from a rational and not emotional point of view, we could proceed on how he could maximize his strategic planning. Peter realized that to stabilize and climb out of the hole he would have to have a plan or roadmap.
I’m fascinated about how sometimes entrepreneurs get into the weeds––and stay there. They miss the opportunity to do that which is truly unique to a founder or entrepreneur, which is to set the vision.
Every day I have the chance to see the Mediterranean Sea. It’s an incredible gift. But, as someone who is not a sailor, I’ve often wondered how the ships get from one point to another. Think about it. At one point, these ships lose sight of the shore. So, how do they get to their destination?
The answer is that captains and sailors look to the stars, as they’ve done for millennia. Modern navigation has been with us since the 18th Century. And the tools used by captains to pinpoint their position relative to the stars are the sextant, navigation maps, and a chronometer. However, make no mistake, although we live in a world of advanced technology and GPS satellite information, captains are still looking up to the stars.
I reminded Peter that he had to get back to basics. Why had he started the business? What was the need he saw his company could serve? What was the top priority? In this case, it was business development. What was the target market that would be the easiest to sell? What was the next one and so on?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “energy” as,
1a: dynamic quality narrative energy; b: the capacity of acting or being active intellectual energy; c: a usually positive spiritual force the energy flowing through all people
2: vigorous exertion of power: effort investing time and energy
3: a fundamental entity of nature that is transferred between parts of a system in the production of physical change within the system and usually regarded as the capacity for doing work
4: usable power (as heat or electricity); also: the resources for producing such power
Energy is essential to propel anything forward. Let’s go back to the sea. I grew up by the sea, and I’ve loved it my entire life. When I moved close to the water again later in life, I told someone to keep an eye on the sea; she changes all the time and multiple times a day. The colors, the sky, the boats, the rhythm of the waves, the people on the beach or the birds flying out over it. There is always something different about the sea.
What if I told you that mountains change every day as well and there’s energy to a mountain? How can that be? They look the same every day. They’re in place; they don’t move. Not true. Mountains change every day. Tree leaves on a mountain may drop and dirt shifts. No mountain is ever the same day after day.
However, this energy doesn’t have to happen all at once. And, that’s what I told Peter. Retrench. Conserve your energy and decide where you’re going to focus it.
It’s impossible to get from one place to another without a plan. You don’t have to detail everything, and sometimes a plan can be as little as a page, but you have to have some idea about all the of the roads necessary to get to your destination.
Having lived in New York City, I’ve always found Central Park as one of the most masterful strokes of urban planning ever engineered. Central Park is an urban park, and it’s the most visited in the U.S. It was created in 1857 and rests on 778 acres. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed it.
Think about New York City in the mid-1800’s. It was a busy place, even then, before the cars and skyscrapers. People visited cemeteries (it’s true) to find a little peace from the chaos. Urban planners and the New York government had the vision to see that they needed to create an urban park in a city that would eventually become a global metropolis. They then set out to create Central Park to give the citizens who were alive then and in the future a place to “get away.”
If that’s not a master stroke of genius, I don’t know what is, and that’s why over 40 million people visit it each year, and it’s a sanctuary for millions of New Yorkers. Vision––in this case, the future of New York’s residents and visitors––needed an urban plan for some nature and peace within this vibrant city, which came to be Central Park.
Peter and I talked about the top priority of business development, and then we sketched out a plan to increase revenue in the next 60 days by 10 percent on the back of a napkin. That was the plan, and all it took was a small square piece of paper.
Finally, when the moment arrives for work, you have to focus. You can’t be distracted. When a business is under financial stress or any stress for that matter, it’s easy to become distracted.
The point is when you focus and contain your energy chipping away at the nut you have to crack, you’re going to arrive sooner than if you diffuse the energy in all different place. The worst thing you can do, and something I’ve seen done over and over again is panic setting in and then an explosion of energy to do something––anything. Wrong move.
Bruce Lee was a great person who’s wise words left a lot of lessons for all of us. As we all know, he was a martial arts master. He was able to overcome opponents much larger than him and do feats that were amazing because of focus. Take a look at this video of Bruce Lee if you want to see incredible focus. It’ll only take a few moments of your time, and it’ll drive home the point.
One of my favorite quotes by this martial arts master is, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
I reminded Peter as we were wrapping up our time together that the moment he walked into the office, he would have a thousand demands. He would have constant door-knocks and phone calls of people looking for his guidance. It would test his will to keep his focus on what he had to get done as the leader. No matter what happened, he had to keep chipping away at the problem. A change wasn’t going to come in one fell swoop. The change was going to occur by maintaining a laser focus on what he had to get done.
There’s no magic formula to strategy. There are countless theories. Some of them are solid and based on evidence. Others, come from experience. It doesn’t matter the approach you ultimately decide to choose. The point is to make a decision on a strategy that will get you closer to your goals and objectives. Do the work. Make it happen.
Posted: May 9, 2017
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