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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“I just installed Lijit.”
When people ask me how I came to be working at Lijit, thats the answer I give them. “I just installed the widget.”
From that first outreach from Tara until today, when I publicly announced my resignation from Lijit, that simple answer completely encapsulates what makes Lijit such an amazing place.
We (It will always be a “we”) built a company centered on the concept that transparency, real interactions with our publishers, and building a great product would lead to success. And so far, we have been right.
The numbers are staggering. 1100% increase in publishers since I have been here, a 3000% increase in pageviews and a doubling in our headcount. As we begin to build out the next pieces of functionality, I truly believe that bloggers who have yet to understand the value of Lijit search brings in both feature set and monetization, will finally figure it out and jump on board.
Do I sound proud? I certainly couldnt be prouder of the Lijit team.
So, why did I decide to move on?
Opportunity. Risk. A healthy amount of alcohol. (Ok, really its the first two. I dont drink and after my 5,345 non-alcoholic beer, I realized the futility of that effort.)
I am a startup guy. I love the beginnings of startups. I love watching entrepreneurs jump of the Startup Cliff with the belief that they will figure it out before they, well, splat.
Current Wisdom, my last (and most successful startup) was started in 2003 as a side project. It was sold in 2007. Its time for me to jump again.
So after mentoring a couple of Techstars teams, one began to ask if I would consider to join them as their CEO. “Two kick-ass developers with a kick-ass product?” I thought to myself.
It was more of a running leap.
This time is different that Current Wisdom. Before I leapt with Current Wisdom, we were making about $50k a month in revenue. This time, I am actually financing the parachute on the way down. (Anyone out there want to get involved with the project, lemme know. That ground comes up fast!)
But, I am excited. The founders are amazing. The product is seriously bad-ass. And the opportunity? Well, it may not get a Twitter or Facebook valuation in the seed round, but it might get that $1 billion valuation. One day. (No really. It might. And, its not the non-alcoholic beer talking. I think.)
Most importantly, I have the support of my mentors, and Todd Vernon, Lijit’s CEO. “I cant wait to see you as CEO,” Todd said. (Im 99% sure there was no sarcasm in his voice. I think.) The fact that I will continue to be part of the Lijit family also makes the choice easier.
Having that air screaming by my face as we head into uncertainty is the greatest feeling any entrepreneur feels. (Well, except the feeling of putting a really big check in the bank when its all over.)
Am I worried? Nope.
Great team, amazing product and fantastic concept? What else could any startup want? (Money? Right. forgot about that.)
In about 30 days, I will be able to provide more information about the project once we close our round (which, while I joke, is pretty close to being done) and get the product to market…
…and then, its up, up and away!
BTW: Here is the post I wrote when I joined Lijit: Micah Goes Lijit!
Twice today people have asked me if I was grumpy. I replied, “Yes, and if you dont get out of my face, I will punch you.”
Grumpy happens. But in my grumpiness, I got to thinking about community. (Yes, its a bit of a non-sequitur, but Im grumpy. Follow along).
Every Monday morning at Lijit, we have senior management meeting at 9am. A Monday morning meeting at 9am is enough to make most anyone grumpy, but that wasnt it.
Over the weekend, a project that we are working on, went a bit awry. With no one really “owning” the project, there were no real answers, and so the email thread was a bit light in responses.
When the topic was raised, the question was asked “Is it because you dont care?”
Immediately, I bristled. There is not a person at Lijit who doesnt care. In fact, in many ways, we can be accused of caring too much. The issue with the project was that because of the competency level of the management team at Lijit, there is an assumption that projects are being managed appropriately by the right person. Which means, that every once in awhile, a project goes awry.
Every individual at Lijit cares about the success of the company. Everyone one. Its probably the single largest driver of our success.
After the meeting, when my grumpiness reached a record high (mostly because my new medication is making my stomach hurt more than it should) I began to think about caring within communities.
At Lijit, our interview process has become legendary. Our VP of Product Management interviewed with a total of 11 people over 27 hours. The average developer interviews 3-5 people for 8-11 hours.
We care so much as to make it highly difficult to join our community.
And Lijit is just one example. Yay Hooray, a popular(?) forum is invite only. Most companies start in private beta. While partly to test their system, it also has the side effect of building a small, but exclusive, community.
Think about it. With a private beta, the people getting the invite are deemed important enough to join the community by either the owners of the product, or the community itself.
In an open community, like Twitter, other roadblocks are created. An internal nomenclature develops. (After all, if you cared about the community, you would learn our language.) A protocol is born. (Seriously, if you cared about the community, you would do things the way we do them.) An open community starts to build sub-communities where there is the desire of inclusion and the increase of caring.
Caring about a community doesnt only manifest itself in exclusion practices. Expectations grow. Requirements are set.
Techstars is a great example of this. Every year the companies are judged against the companies that preceded them. While that may not sound that daunting, as companies have positive exits and strong funding events, the pressure to improve upon those activities accelerates. It becomes harder and harder to impress. Success becomes the expectation.
So does a sense of caring help or hurt a community?
Communities that are welcoming and dont outline clear goals and rules run the risk of accepting so many people that the community fails. The initial group of community members tend to feel the greatest amount of ownership over the community, with each “ring” of new members caring less and less about the fidelity of the community.
Yet, if early in the process of accepting additional members to the community, there are roadblocks, hurdles or other clear requirements, the differences between the concentric circles tends to blur. While a hierarchy continues to exist based on age of membership, the level of caring and ownership tend to flatten out.
The existence of roadblocks may also go beyond making it difficult to join a community to actually making it less desirable, reducing the number–and depth–of the applicant pool. When attrition outpaces recruitment, communities then start to wither and, potentially, die.
How does a community properly balance its recruitment and attrition? Potentially, through the acceptance of less desirable members that show a strong competence.
Competence is the function of two things: Ability to learn and the ability to apply learning effectively. A less desirable member of a community that is competent holds the intrinsic value of learning the values, needs and requirements of a community and acting on them. In return, the new member of the community feels a strong sense of ownership and truly cares about the community.
Want to grow your community? Set the core members, the founders of the community aside. Find the group in the second concentric circle that are focused on the sustainability of the community. Recruit highly competent people and train them properly. Allow them to have a positive effect on the community at large.
Allow caring to protect the community, but not close off the community in such a way to eliminate any chance for positive growth.