Being a startup in 2010

5 01 2010

We’ve welcomed 2010 at home and now at work.  As thoughts of New Year champagne and merrymaking fade into recent memory, projects and deadlines loom large.  Targets, goals, benchmarking…hello job!

According to this WSJ article, Americans are less satisfied with their work than ever.  No kidding.  Between doing more with less for at least a decade, and this style-cramping no-end-in-sight economy, I dare you to find 10 friends who go to work for ‘the man’ with a song in their heart.

All of which gave me additional pause when I read that startups will keep struggling in 2010.  For many of us working in professional chain gangs, we dream of changing our work path, breaking free & finally being our own boss.  The article delivered a somber forecast, but here are some silver-lining thoughts if you want to or have already launched your own gig.  See if these might change your perspective:

  1. Angel investors and venture capitalists are doing more, but smaller deals.  VCs are targeting later-stage companies to minimize their risk.  And the SBA may see a modest stimulus-induced uptick.    So…funding is still out there.  What REALLY counts, more than ever in this climate, is a rock-solid business strategy that can be creatively and successfully implemented on a budget.  In other words, prove you know how to accomplish more with less dinero on as many fronts as possible.  If nothing, you will stand out for your ingenuity and resourcefulness.
  2. Companies are asking friends & family to work for free i.e. exchanging services or trading favors.  If you’re already neck deep in entrepreneur literature, this will not be news to you.  Consider 2010 the year to call in those favors – this is no time to be shy if you truly believe in your idea.  And if you’ve established high credibility with former bosses or colleagues, ask them if they’ll put their money or time where their faith is.
  3. Given the funding situation, a budding restauranteur featured in the article is rethinking his setup.  Instead of going it alone or starting from scratch, he may take on partners or invest in a failed restaurant.  So get creative.  Study that business plan again.  Is there something you can tweak without compromising your vision?  Is there a market entry point you haven’t considered?  Start talking to people abut your startup.  You’ll be surprised by what they reveal or point you to.  In this networked world where information courses at a million miles a minute and ideas just like yours could be a dime a dozen, sharing your idea won’t necessarily diminish your competitive edge.  However, a lack of  follow through and flawless execution will.

The business climate may not be ideal for your startup right now.  But that didn’t stop companies from trying and succeeding in previous downturns.  Give that budding vision a chance to breathe, evolve and eventually become the full-blooded entity you know it can be.

A New Year’s toast to your dream.  Cheers!


The paradoxes of change

20 12 2009

I was amazed at how relevant this 1997 article  is today.  It argues that what you fear, or what you/your family/your organisation instinctually avoid, becomes a useful marker of the direction of the most powerful change that you could encounter. 

In modern parlance, the comfort zone is enemy territory.

This, however, clashes with our instinct for order and our desire to make sense of the world.  We cannot measure what we cannot define.  We need boundaries, frameworks, taxonomies and systems to exert control over the entropic world we inhabit. 

Predictability = safety, security, power.  And yet, the pace of change outstrips our ability to comprehend or compute it.  Surely it’s high time we accept the fact that quickfire change is here to stay and, the better we’re able to adapt to and thrive amidst it, the more we can function, contribute and excel.

As 2010 beckons and we look ahead to its untold possibilities, what are your current attitudes toward change?

1) Do you naturally seek order or invite uncertainty?

2) Do you move toward or away from what you instinctually fear?

3) Do your New Years’ resolutions change or remain constant over the years?  Why?

4) How do friends/family influence the changes you do or don’t make in life?

5) If you desire change, do you know what direction to take?

Let’s begin the beguine of change.

Making change fun

15 12 2009

There are probably as many behavioural change theories as there are people who want to change.

What bogs most of us down, I think, is that change is often positioned or perceived as something hard, requires large doses of self-discipline and is longdrawn.

It doesn’t always have to be that way.  In this Volkswagen initiative, site creators believe that fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.

As I reflect on my own recent path through change, I can relate.

I started taking improv lessons a year ago, and to say they’ve been life-changing is a monumental understatement.

The rewards of improvisation extend far beyond its theatrical ability to entertain and captivate.  When done well, the improviser experiences not just a unique sense of ‘flow’ or being ‘in the zone’, but a surreal feel of collaborative storytelling, reminiscent of childhood playground fantasy games.

In a word, good improv is FUN.  For the performers and the audience.

What, then, does all this have to do with change?

One of the first tenets of improv is having the courage to fail and take risks.  If you make a mistake, celebrate, don’t berate.  That barrier is easier said than done to cross, particularly in our structured left-brained dominant world, but reaching the other side is oh-so-sweet.

For when you’re on the other side, things get juicy.  You begin to release your inner child, that openness that makes you want to play and people want to play with you.  You gain more courage to say ‘yes, and’ to offers that come your way (both on- and offstage), instead of the more typical ‘no’ that keeps you in your comfortable risk-free zone.

As you allow this notion of risk-taking to permeate your consciousness, you start making bolder choices in the characters you play and the extremes you go to on stage.  The audience squeals with delight at each choice, fueling you to go further.

Then there are your fellow players.  In a strong and experienced ensemble, this positive risk-taking is multipled manifold.  Each sentence or movement by an improv player is an offer thrown out to the group, bait that the others must repond to so as to advance the story.  And each offer represents the potential to change the scene, a character or the plot.  When the offer is acknowledged and, more importantly, amplified by another player, the audience is thrilled beyond measure.

Change can happen as often as once every 5 seconds in an improvised scene or play.  And, in contrast to most corporate settings or even many personal lives, these changes are accepted with grace and amplified with confidence by one or all on stage.

An improv ensemble is a mystical thing.  To the outsider, it seems as if they’re magicians conjuring up impossibly cogent stories and compelling characters on the fly.  As a recent insider, I’ve come to know that it’s a delightful exercise in creativity and innovation based on making change fun.