I’ve been traveling a ton. For example this week, I was in SF Saturday – Tues AM, flew back to Boulder (got in around 4pm), am leaving on Wednesday at 11am back to California and will return on Friday at midnight. And, while in California, I will drive from San Diego to LA, taking several meetings and press interviews on the drive.
Why does it matter? Because all that traveling gives me a lot of solitary time to think.
What I spent much of the airplane ride today thinking about is do pivots have to have a specific moment in which they must occur, or is it possible to do multiple smaller pivots constantly. In essence, can a startup be successful if it lives in a constant state of change?
People, in general, are not comfortable with a constant stage of change. Its more comfortable to have consistency and reliability in day to day interactions. Even if the change itself is reliable, over time, people just lose productivity, as they begin to work the expectation of change into their daily routine.
Couple with the strong belief most entrepreneurs have in their decision making skills and ability to understand the market, and most companies will, if necessary, create a pivot as an “event,” with planning, discussion and then action as components.
Ive tried both. Ive tried to make multiple smaller changes, hoping that the team will discover the right direction (almost through trial and error) and settle in on that path. If it works, its great. There is a minimal loss of productivity, most employees stay on staff, and as far as the external world knows, business continued as usual. But, its hard, and it only works if you have a mature work force that is trusting.
Making a hard pivot also has its downfalls. Usually, there is a loss of team members. Either the new direction removes the need for certain skill sets, or the team member just isnt into the new future of the company. This was part of the reason that I left Lijit. As they moved more towards providing a really slick ad network and tools, I realized that after 15 years of online marketing and advertising in one way or another, I was not as jazzed about building another ad network. I love what they are doing, and I often think about if I stayed how I could have affected them positively, but the change was the right thing (plus I now get to read comic books every day!!)
Sometimes, the market is so comfortable with your current path, that any change could be seen as a sign of weakness or failure. Fear stops many companies from making pivots.
Pivots arent always external either. For us, we have grown quickly, and have team members strewn all over the globe has proven to be more difficult than expected. In addition, as we focus on the business opportunities in front of us, we needed to make an adjustment to how we did business. We needed to create a new company culture, and for that to happen, we had to be all in the same location. Sure, there are many companies that successfully make the distributed workforce work for them. But, not for us. Not now. So we internally pivoted. And, like an external pivot, we will lose employees. We may find the short term a bit more difficult while we deal with the build of the company along with the movement of people. But, its the right, and only, decision for us.
Living the startup life is learning to deal with the potential of a constant state of change. With removing the personal from the professional, and focusing solely on long term success. When that requires a shift or change–a pivot–its imperative that its done with the minimal effect on the team (be honest, dont hesitate and stand firm).
Pivots dont need to be large events, and they should come with excitement and the comfort knowing that the right decision for the business was reached. As Chris said in his post:
You aren’t throwing away what you’ve learned or the good things you’ve built. You are keeping your strong leg grounded and adjusting your weak leg to move in a new direction.
Dont fear the pivot. Fear the stagnation that is always the precursor to losing.
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Recently, there had been some conversation about the benefits of being a stealth startup.
Stealth mode has been a fundamental tenant of our approach to building the company, and I think it has served us well.
(By the way, read Niel’s post. He and I have had multiple discussions about blogging, namely I advocate writing often and Niel champions writing much less, but much more researched and well-thought out posts. With this post, at least for now, he wins.)
In the case of Trada, staying quiet about the expert SEM marketplace they were building allowed the company the room to develop their platform in relative quiet and without tipping off any actual or potential competitor to what they were doing.
And Brad added:
Niel redefines stealth mode very nicely in his post and then applies it to how Trada went from an idea being bounced around between him, Seth, and a few other folks to a very unique business, growing like crazy, with no direct competitors or fast followers. Sure – competitors may appear over time, but the head start that Trada has is dramatic and their ability to lead their market segment now that they’ve emerged from stealth mode is insured.
Harry DeMott asked:
To stealth or not to stealth is not the question.
Am I building a moat or a drawbridge? – that is the question.
Chris Dixon discusses “underhype mode”:
This trend strikes me as a response to the fact that 1) raising money from certain investors can be such a strong signal that it triggers massive investor/tech press excitement, 2) things are “frothy” now – meaning lots of smart people are starting companies and easily raising lots of money, 3) word seems to travel faster than ever about interesting startups, and 4) there are big companies like Facebook and Google who are good at fast following.
In a post where he separates Product Launching from Marketing Launching, Eric Reis posits:
Launching is a tactic, not a strategy.
Ok, I think we are all caught up. :)
Why, am I now, a couple of weeks after the initial buzz around the stealth vs. no-stealth debate, thinking and writing about it? Well, we are opening our alpha to the world this week, and given how I often try to do things, we are going to be screaming it from the mountain tops.
I have never believed in stealth mode in the strictest definition of the word. After living through the late 1990s and early 2000s in Silicon Valley (well, in San Francisco. As a kid that grew up in San Jose, let me just state for the record SAN FRANCISCO IS NOT SILICON VALLEY. Ok, now that I got that out, I feel so much better) I watched startup after startup “come out of stealth mode” and flop.
So we decided to be open. Very open. How did we come to that conclusion?
There are three specific reasons: The Founders, The Industry and The Product.
Why would we have an effect on that decision? The personality of the founders of a company directly affect the personality of the company.
I am not a quiet person. I am excited and enthusiastic about what we are building, and who is building it. Ask me a question about Graphic.ly, and I will probably answer it. Kevin is the same way (except he is much quieter than I. Shoot, I think the 79 sirens the City of Denver is currently testing are quieter than me) .
We are both super excited and cant wait to bring the full product to market. We have spent hours talking about what we are building now and what we will build in the future. We have spent days talking to our users: publishers, creators and comic enthusiasts. We love what we are doing, and love seeing other people getting excited about it.
The comic industry tends to hold things pretty close to the vest. I think its mostly because there has been rocky times over the last couple of decades, and so many companies have popped up promising the world, and then failing to deliver. We felt that it was important to embrace the community and industry as early as we could in our growth, and live by one rule:
“Say what we are going to do, and then do it.”
To that end, we gave the company to the community. We asked the community to help us build the product. We want the community to see their fingerprints in the product as it grows. We want everyone, especially the community, to be proud of what we have built.
We are a community of people that love the art and storytelling of comic books and enjoy doing nothing more than discussing and sharing them. Communities are built on reliability, consistency and openness.
When we were demoed at CES by Steve Ballmer, our product was nowhere near ready. We knew that, but we didnt want to pass up the opportunity for so many people to see what we were building. Prior to CES, we had had some press because of the great work Kevin and Than had done at Techstars, but given our adherence to our rule of “say what we are going to do, and then do it” we had nothing much to talk about. Did we hide our progress? No. Were we stealth? Not at all.
There was just no benefit to anyone, the community, the industry or us to crow about what we WANTED to do, so we stuck with what we HAVE done. Given that was “not much,” we said “not much.”
Stealth mode just doesnt work for us or our community. Which, is really the most important take away from this conversation.
Take a look at your leadership, your industry and your product. They will tell you if stealth mode (for the company or a product) make sense. For us, it didnt. For Trada, it did.
As for under- or over-hyping? I think we have “right-hyped”.
Oh, and Harry, what is our moat? The trust we have built with our community. Not sure if there is a better one.
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