Startup Diaries Week #6: The One Week Business
February 23, 2016
Shelving Cavalry left us at a fork in the road.
Actually, it was more of a roundabout, one with three exits:
- Exit #1 led home with Cavalry put to bed and Adam & I returning to what we were doing before.
- Exit 2 was pivoting on the idea that we originally had and finding a problem to solve within the supply side of the original business, a side that was already built and within which we already had hundreds of people ready to sign up.
- Exit #3 was to do something completely different.
You know me, constant reader, you know that I have no problem shelving something if it’s not working, failing fast is the hallmark of a savvy decision maker. They say. See last week's post for the hard truth about this, though.
Quitting however, well that’s something completely different. Exit #1, honestly, was never on the table. What’s the point of quitting an accelerator programme simply because your original business idea is no longer “a goer”?
In fact, I’d like you to ponder that for a moment: shit is going to get hard, that’s a fact of business and life, and to paraphrase my favourite boxer:
“It ain’t about hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Cheesy, but true. After all, clichés become clichéd for a reason.
But thinking on this, I must admit that we all need to bring that to front of mind when something doesn’t land right for us; when things aren’t going to plan and when all we want to do is retreat back into the warmth of our comfort zone.
Had that been a viable option, what would it have achieved?
Instead, I’d have spent 5 weeks away from Mrs. A, from family and from friends to simply learn how to fail.
Anyone can do that.
But, last week was hard, you know that if you’ve been following this blog series. What we both realised at the end of that week as we were travelling home, was that we were ready for a break.
More so, before we could decide between exits #2 and #3, we really had another, more pressing choice to make.
How to spend the weekend that Cavalry was shelved:
- Cram, plan and try our hardest to find a new business idea quickly.
- Forget it. Enjoy ourselves and not even think about it.
Thanks to the magic of St. Valentine’s Day and the marvellous Mrs. A, I did the latter. So did Adam.
We did nothing, nada.
Now let me tell you a story
I have a great friend called Don Gent.
In 2011 I was going through my “there’s way too much to do, too much pressure and I don’t know where to start” phase and I vividly remember, on one particularly hard day, Don hitting me with this advice:
“Go hit some golf balls, you’ll work it out without even realising it.”
Of course, as with most things, he was right. Always listen to Don, lesson one.
At this point, I should mention that I’d already subconsciously made the decision that I didn’t want to build enterprise software for garages. That was the only viable option should we decide to take exit #2.
Curiously, and I wouldn’t find this out until later, Adam was feeling the same. It just didn’t excite him, nor did it excite me.
Again, without even realising it, I’d already decided that exit #3 was the route I wanted to take. And so did Adam, neither of us knew that about the other though, yet!
Exit #3: Something completely different. Oh sh*t.
The problem of course with exit #3 was that it was a complete do over, a start from scratch, a route that required an idea.
But, at 6:30pm on Sunday, as I hugged the giant daft dog goodbye for the week to head back down to Ignite, we had nothing.
Then, out of nowhere at 6:35pm, the magic of Don’s words played its part.
After a weekend of doing nothing “work” related, I was walking out of the door to catch the train back to London and had as close as I can imagine I’ll ever get to an epiphany.
I remember the exact moment vividly: an idea popped into my head that was so strong that I eagerly reeled it off to Adam on the journey back to Shoreditch and by the time we had gotten to London, we had the format for a brand new business.
And that there, well that was our pivot. It was that quick.
I’m writing this on Friday afternoon in TechHub, London. The Friday after the story above takes place.
4.5 days after the story takes place, to be exact.
And things have moved fast. Very, very fast.
Right now we have a brand new business that is fleshed out enough that it has a viable business model, enough customer research completed to warrant us completely branding it (thanks to Super-Ky Wilkinson) and a fully functioning website with complete sign up processes for both sides of the marketplace that we’re creating.
We will be launched in less than 10 days.
I’m going to tell you more about the new business in later posts, because I want to spend some more time reflecting upon and passing on the insights from this week, the week after we killed our startup; the week in which we created a new one.
For now, all I will say is that it’s still a marketplace model, its nothing at all to do with the motoring industry and it’s something I’m really excited about.
Challenges this week
I’ll be honest, on Monday we were worried about what our weekly review would be like.
We were worried that our idea was going to get panned and that we’d be encouraged to look at what we could do with the burning embers of Cavalry.
But we weren’t. Again, Martyn and Paul from Ignite were super supportive and in fact, Martyn expressed that he was very impressed that we’d truly pivoted and that we were able to divorce ourselves from the mindset of failure fast, bouncing back with a brand new idea within a day or so.
And you know what, Paul was excited by the idea. That, along with Martyn’s pat on the back was the “go get them” call that set the tone for the week.
And wow, what a week it was.
We’ve been able to merge our years of doing business with the mentalities we’ve picked up being here on Ignite and create something viable that will make money from day one and change both our customers’ lives, and the lives of those who work with us on the other side of the market place.
Being frank, our single biggest challenge this week has been knowing exactly where to laser focus our attention. It’s been about separating interesting from important; ensuring that we have the right conversations at the right time; it’s been about acting decisively and without delay.
By understanding these challenges, we have been able to pull away from so many of our in built and very natural behaviours. For example my propensity to focus on the interesting and not the important, and Adam’s willingness to jump straight to building something amazing versus bare bones-ing a quick MVP (minimum viable product) using pre-built tech.
And you know, the funny thing is that we know to push against these behaviours usually. And for a time in business, typically, we do. But when I’m sat at HACKSAW, there’s no one to keep me accountable for that because everyone else is keeping themselves accountable for their own focus.
It’s just about being “busy”, as opposed to being impactful, if you’re not careful.
And so, being here at Ignite put us directly in an environment where we were able to keep each other accountable, and more importantly, that has equipped us with the tools to choose the right focus points in order to build something quality, quickly.
Real life: how the co-founders are doing
You know what, I’m doing great. I’m energised and fired up, plus I’m excited for not only the new business but also for the way that I’m able to apply what I’m surrounding myself within my other businesses.
Being here at Ignite is helping me to really take a higher view of things, without dismissing the detail.
It’s allowing me to work better with people and gives me the confidence to delegate, for example, certain HACKSAW tasks where usually I’d try to control them a little more.
And that’s great for everyone: I truly believe that one of the biggest mistakes that young entrepreneurs in directorial positions make is in trying to keep the reins on team members. It’s simple insecurity: let them work as they are comfortable working and they will deliver. It’s that simple.
Don't chastise someone for ten minutes on Facebook or twenty minutes on a side project if they're delivering quality work for you, on time. That's a sure fire way of alienating your team and frankly, losing talent that you may well depend on.
We all know that. But wow, don’t you sometimes forget the little things like that in the bluster of the “day to day”.
I’ve also been able to plan and implement a ton of Podcast Websites v2.0 work, run an Academy webinar (which was fantastic) for the members and get the new branding through to complete sign off.
Why do I mention that? Because I’m getting better at prioritising. I know what needs doing and when.
In fact, I’m better at that than when I wrote the ”14 Day Guide to Cutting Your Working Hours and Increasing Your Impact”, so much so that I decided to record a podcast episode about what I’m calling “productivity optimisation”.
That’ll be landing on episode 145. CHECK
This week, I know that I personally have been able to keep laser focus on priorities, get what is important done and I realise that was the single biggest challenge this week.
I have no doubt that Adam feels similarly because he’s been able to work on things that are new and fresh to him, that push against his natural propensity to move straight to code; for example our launch acquisition plan.
Lessons learned this week
- When you have something, move fast. Forget perfection, strive for validation. And seriously, do it quickly.
- Talk to more customers than you ever thought possible in orderto validate your idea . On Monday, that’s all we did: spoke to upwards of 20 people in person to “Mom Test” the idea.
- When you have identified a problem through this testing, look to the most basic of technology to create a MVP, and avoiding coding for 99% of it. We have a fully working MVP using just Twillio, Zapier, Slack and WordPress – not a line of code has been written, except to hide a pesky menu in CSS. Bloody menu.
- Do not assume anything. Ask, test, measure, tweak. Rinse and repeat.
Next week we need to look at refining our launch segment down to an even narrower niche. And then we need to do that again, and again and one final time to get really down and dirty with our customer acquisition plan.
Hey also, this next week is the week of the founders trip to America, where myself and the CEOs of Ignite companies are heading to Boulder, Denver and New York to meet some of the biggest, brightest and most innovative startups in the U.S.
Expect a jet lagged post next week, and don’t forget the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel.