I’ve been working at start-ups and small businesses since I was 14 years old. My father and his father before him owned and operated their own small businesses. There’s something about the fight for survival for a small team that’s coded in my DNA. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working at Undercurrent so much. We’re small and thus we’re nimble. We’re lean and thus we’re malleable. And our age and our medium demand both.
I doodled this little venn diagram in my notepad the other day when we were talking about our own kung-fu and I realized it’s basically the conversation I’ve had for the last 12 years.
Over the years, I’ve found myself facing the following scenarios. (and I’ve added my two cents on how to move forward)
We can’t determine how to make enough money from the things we want to do, and do really well. I’m constantly surprised at what can be monetized. And on the web, there’s a market for almost anything. But this problem requires you to rapidly iterate your positioning and the type of clients you serve. Often, we’ll get transfixed on a single direction early on (because we’re desperate to solidify our business) and we’ll miss our chance to radically experiment with the market.
We’ve found things we want to do, and can be paid for, but we’re not the best game in town. Mediocrity is not a sustainable strategy. Being able to recognize your own weakness is a profound strength, and acting to improve what you do is key to any kind of long term growth and stability. Find the best talent and steal them. Learn how your competitors run their businesses, and copy what works.
We’ve come across things people want us to do, that we do well (or at least better than the competition) that we really don’t want to do. This is perhaps the most fatal trap for any business I’ve worked in. These are the sirens calling you to shipwreck. You’ll hemorrhage your best people, you’ll stop loving what you do, and you’ll lose the passion that built your business in the first place. Start saying ‘No.’