We all have our own happy places. For me, it's on my bicycle. There's nothing better than jumping on my bike and going for a 50-mile ride through scenic Maryland, or cruising past historic spots in our nation's capital. I'm used to maneuvering around the city, paying close attention to speeding cars, lost tourists and local buses. Luckily, the sound of a honking horn doesn't faze me anymore. My favorite sound? The gears switching below my feet. And on a recent ride, I realized I've been switching gears for much of my life, both on my bike and in my work.
Being an entrepreneur is no easy task, especially when the company you've worked hard to build looks like it might fail. I helped start a small business in the late 90s that we thought would revolutionize the delivery of packages for the ecommerce market (and as entrepreneurs, don't we all share the same motivation?). But then the stock market crashed, the internet bubble burst and venture capital funding became much more difficult to secure. I was faced with a choice -- find a way to pivot and save our fledgling business, or go back to the beginning and start all over again.
For those that find themselves in similar positions, here are three tips to keep in mind when switching gears:
Don't Stray Too Far from the Original Idea
Even if your first disruptive idea wasn't as successful as you had hoped, don't let all your hard work go to waste. Think about the overarching theme of your business model and see how it can solve a similar problem or be applied to a different industry.
For example, the first product we launched was a "smart box" that provided secure storage for packages delivered to your home. It was wirelessly connected to the Internet so that that only the home owner and other credentialed users like the delivery person could open it. But when that idea ran headlong into the bursting Internet bubble of 2001, we thought -- how can we apply the "smart box" technology to another use case? The answer turned out to be simple -- just apply it to a bigger box, namely buildings. This insight allowed us to transform the company into a highly successful physical security service. What it taught me was that just because a business model didn't succeed in one domain, that doesn't mean it can't still be successful if applied elsewhere.
Keep the Momentum Going
Once that new idea hits you, don't look back. Switching gears after a setback has become a familiar -- if still discouraging -- experience for many entrepreneurs. But you can't let the hills of launching a new, or similar, venture get in the way, even if you feel like you just solved them once already.
Luckily, our team had a very strong sense of purpose and we weren't willing to walk away from something that we'd put so much of our selves into. The key to preserving the momentum was to turn our backs on the past and only look forward. Trying to straddle the old and the new would have led to indecision and lack of action. We had to "fall out of love" with the original idea and redirect that passion to something new. We knew that re-launching in the shortest possible time was the only way to restore the sense that we were a real company with a real product. So, within six months we had recreated ourselves and made a debut in an entirely new industry.
Be Open to Making Sacrifices
It can be very challenging to let go of your original dream, the one you thought was brilliant and certain to succeed. But when launching a business, you frequently have to take two steps back to move one step forward, whether it be working ridiculous hours or putting work first over spending time with family and friends. When we re-launched Brivo, for example, we had to lay off more than half of our staff, and everyone who remained had to take salary deferrals to ensure the company's survival. We also had to throw away the tremendous publicity, "buzz" and brand equity we had created around the original idea and recreate all of that in a totally new space.
As entrepreneurs, we're all motivated to disrupt a market or positively impact the world, but sometimes the original idea doesn't always go according to plan. Fortunately, many of the entrepreneurs I've met throughout my career are both smart and flexible -- two qualities that are crucial when switching gears.
Has your small business switched gears recently? What were some strategies you used to overcome the challenges?