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All posts tagged Success

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Last month I got an email from a friend.

After 6 months of hustle, she’s throwing in the towel.

Why?

  • Not enough sales.
  • No traction.
  • No growth.

I felt bad.

I hate seeing people fail.

I hate it even more when a project fails that hasn’t  been properly tested in the marketplace.

In my friends case, she had only tried one option.

It didn’t work.

Surely there’s a better way…

Only the Strong Agile Survive

Granted, not all projects are worthwhile.

Some simply aren’t economically viable.

Is your project economically viable? If not: Pivot!

Others might be able to sustain themselves through whatever means (force, trust fund, etc.), but to what end (the excruciatingly slow death of the postal service comes to mind)?

But the reality is: you can’t know whether a project is worthwhile from the first failure (not if you want to eventually build something that lasts)

So I told my friend that she shouldn’t shut down just yet.

Instead, she should pivot.

The Lean Startup Pivot

What’s a pivot?

Taken from Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, a pivot is a:

structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.

Good, but a little technical.

Here’s how Steve Blank describes it:

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find the your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

In simpler terms (hopefully without missing the point):

A pivot is adjusting your current approach to a problem.

Note: read all the way to the bottom to download The Essential Pivot Checklist and Workbook for when you’re ready to pivot your business or project.

Sometimes it’s a complete overhaul, identifying a new “job to be done” (the pain point you’re solving for people), sometimes in an entirely new industry or via a different medium.

Other times, it’s not so dramatic – just a simple shift in execution.

Every successful company in the world has pivoted at some point in their lifecycle. It’s inevitable.

Pivoting in business.

How do I Pivot?

After I told my friend she should pivot, she asked a reasonable question:

How?

My friend wanted me to tell her what to do in her particular situation.

Here’s the problem:

By its nature, pivoting is a creator-led process.

It requires the owner / operator to think, engage, challenge, test, break and build.

Nobody can tell you how to pivot, nor can someone do it for you.

So, instead of telling her what to do, I suggested some resources that could provide a framework for her to approach the problem. At the same time, I realized that most people have no idea what a pivot is or how to go about pivoting in their business.

While books like The Innovator’s Solution, Running Lean, 4 Steps to Epiphany and many others have covered pivoting in some way, these are very technical books and focus on the tech startup community primarily.

That sucks because everyone should know how to pivot (in business and life).

So here’s my attempt at breaking down a pivot for the less tech savvy people of the world (me).

This is the framework and the mindset I use to approach everything (from the books I publish to the products I launch).

I’m no expert, but I hope my thoughts on the subject can at least get you started on the right path.

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NOTE: this blog post assumes you’ve already built something and that it’s not working. However, it’s equally valuable for those about to build something because it probably won’t work (I’m not a pessimist, I’m just experienced in failure). So bookmark and take notes for later.

And if you like this blog post (and want more like it), shoot me a tweet to let me know!

[Click here to Tweet me to let me know you want more content like this!!]

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Step 1: Lay the Foundation for Your Pivot (Figure Out What Worked and What Went Wrong)

In the Army, after every mission, training exercise, event (basically everything), they conduct what is known as an After Action Review (or AAR for short).

An AAR is a chance for key players (anyone involved in an operation or exercise) to identify:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What DID happen?
  3. Sustains – what did we do right and what should we do the same next time or in a similar (3 is usually the minimum)
  4. Improves – what did we do wrong and what should we do different the next time (3 again)

If you’ve read any of the business books I’ve listed above, you should see a thread that runs through the lean startup methodology

  • What was supposed to happen = Hypothesis
  • What did happen = Testing the hypothesis
  • Sustains / Improves = Measuring based on metrics you’ve established earlier so you can iterate (try again)

I conduct an AAR with myself or my team after every major shipped project.

For an AAR guide and pivot checklist and workbook, download The Essential Pivot Checklist and Workbook

AARs are valuable for things like:

  1. Writing. If I write for a major platform (like Fizzle.co or Problogger.net) then I want there to be some positive result (like X number of new email subscribers to my list, or Y number of comments, or…you get the idea). I need to sit down after something like this ships to see what the results actually were and if it’s worth doing again in the future (and how to improve the next time to get better results)
  2. Consulting. When I consult with someone, I want to make sure there’s a positive result for the person I’m helping. This is the only way to improve and continue getting clients.
  3. Projects. I launch a lot of projects. What were the results? What can we learn? How can we do better next time?

If you take away anything from this, know that pivoting begins with analyzing what was supposed to happen versus what did happen.

Without this basic knowledge, you can’t pivot (you’d just be shooting in the dark…which might work…if you’re lucky).

Step 2: Determine the Shift that Needs to Take Place for Your Pivot

Cool, so you know your first plan didn’t work…

Now what?

The AAR should give you insight into what to do next.

  • If your “sustains” included something that sorta worked, can you double down?
  • If your “improves” included something that completely missed the mark, can you scrap it altogether try a different approach?

More likely than not, some part of your original iteration worked.

If that’s the case, it may be useful to consider how you can maintain your original idea (mostly) while tweaking what worked to make it more effective (or reducing what didn’t work so it is less disruptive to your business model).

Conversely, if NOTHING hit the mark, it’s much more effective to change things dramatically.

Here’s Ash Maurya’s (author of Running Lean) take on it:

If the goal is to maximize learning, you have to pick bold outcomes versus chase incremental improvements. So rather than changing the color of your call to action button, change the unique value proposition. Rather than experimenting with different prices, experiment with different pricing models.

In other words: to know where to go, you need to know where you’re at.

That means determining if you’re FINDING the fit, or OPTIMIZING the fit.

Pivoting Before and After You Find Product / Market Fit

When I launched The Creative Entrepreneur (now Bootstrapped), I was shooting in the dark a bit.

Iteration 1: finding product market fit…

I knew I wanted to create some sort of annual publication with reoccurring revenue and I knew I wanted to focus on business.

The first thing I did was pitch the idea to potential contributors (the people who would produce the content for the publication.

This is how I received my first form of validation (I’ve written more about that here).

In a nutshell: I figured if people would write for the publication, then people would pay for the publication.

This is an assumption, of course, and needed its own round of testing (preorder sales).

I don’t want to go in depth here about validating an idea as that’s a topic that deserves its own analysis (read this article for more information on validation), but the point is: I was trying to find product/market fit.

With the preorders I received, I found it (at least in a small way).

Iteration 2: optimizing product market fit…better, no?

The next step for issue 2 was optimizing the product/market fit.

This required pivoting again by asking questions like:

  • How can I scale this?
  • How can I grow this?
  • How do we get more users, subscribers, etc.?

For us, that meant branding redesign, re-evaluating the content strategy, adding new sales channels, etc.

Have we optimized product/market fit?

We can’t be sure just yet.

Yes we’re getting subscribers and yes the reaction is overwhelmingly positive, but some of these tests take weeks or more to confirm for sure (especially big changes like a rebranding).

What’s the “Right” Pivot?

To be entirely honest, the answers to these questions are elusive at best.

Just like if you’re trying to pivot a new business (or an old one), you won’t know what the right answers are for sure. The point isn’t to know the answers at the outset.

The point is to have an idea and be willing and able to test until you find something that works.*

**just to emphasize again: what “works” for optimizing product/market fit is different than what works for finding product/market fit**

Step 3: Test and Measure Your Pivot

Testing and measuring your pivot is the simplest step.

Step 3 is all about taking meaningful action.

What did you decide to pivot?

  • Did you decide to change the pricing model?
  • Did you decide to add or remove features?
  • Did you decide to change mediums?

Whatever the choice, make sure you can measure it.

For example:

  • Changing a pricing model is easy: did you get more or less sales?  How does that affect revenue and profit overall? What’s the reception from your target market.
  • Adding or removing features? Again, how many more people opted in? Did you get more paid subscribers, more signups, more…?

You get the idea.

A pivot is only as useful as what you’re able to measure.

The Hardest Part of Pivoting

Testing and measuring your pivot is also the hardest part.

Not because it’s technical – it usually isn’t - but because it’s hard to pick ourselves up and test something that didn’t work out the first time.

It hurts to get rejected.

It hurts when we miss the mark again – sometimes more than the first time.

Here’s the deal:

There’s nothing to be ashamed of by retesting an idea in a new way.

If someone said no to your idea, it’s not grovelling to go back with a new pitch and ask again. In fact, the person you approach again should be happy that you adjusted course. After all, if this person is in your target market, they want what you’re trying to create.

So don’t worry about the rejection or failure (it’s all part of the process).

Instead, perceive and approach your pivot as an experiment and a game.

This works because…well, it is

So don’t stress – just test.

A Free Guide to Help You Pivot

Okay, so this blog post taught you a little about pivoting , but what’s next?

I always find it helpful to have some sort of guide or worksheet to help me follow through on material, so I took it upon myself to create a sweet downloadable (and FREE!) product for those of you looking to pivot in your business.

In the workbook you’ll get:

  1. A 2 page After Action Review workbook (including a breakdown of what an AAR is and how to use it)
  2. The 3 Step Pivot Evaluation Method (this will help you focus on what to target and whether you should focus on finding product/market fit or optimizing product/market fit)
  3. 10 “Target-Pivots” that Eric Ries of The Lean Startup uses when pivoting a business (this stuff is gold)
  4. The 5 Step Pivot Execution Framework (to help you put it all together!)

[Get your free copy here]

do it

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I hope this blog and the accompanying checklist and workbook help you on your way to product/market fit and a successful business.

If you enjoyed this blog post, let me know.

Click to tweet me and let me know!

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Started in Napa, California (just before meeting up with The Resistance, San Rafael Branch). Finished and Shipped in San Fransico, California.

Writing time: 9:14 (ouch…true story)

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Of all the cruel punishments the Greek gods bestowed on humans (and one another), the punishment of Sisyphus is one of the cruelest.

Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra and the son of Aelius (ruler of the winds and son of Poseidon…the guy has some serious lineage behind him).

He was also a prideful, deceitful, murderous ruler; not only was he a chronic liar (deceiving both gods and humans), but he killed travelers and visitors for fun in his own kingdom.

Basically, Sisyphus was a real prick.

Apparently, after one too many deceitful and murderous acts, Zeus decided enough was enough and condemned Sisyphus to an eternal punishment. Except this wasn’t any old punishment. Zeus crafted something uniquely horrible for Sisyphus.

Zeus condemned Sisyphus to push a large bolder up a steep hill.

Difficult for sure, but not the worst thing in the world (or underworld), right?…

Except, like all good Greek myths, there was a catch.

Zeus enchanted the bolder.

Anytime Sisyphus came close to the top of the hill with the bolder, it would slip through his hands, rolling all the way back down to the bottom.

No matter how Sisyphus approached the challenge, his effort was futile.

An eternity of useless, infuriating effort with no payoff.

Sisyphus and Entrepreneurship

In a lot of ways, entrepreneurship, art, and writing feel the same way.

We spend hours, weeks, months (years in some cases) working on a project, only to launch it and…people don’t like it, people hate it, or, worst of all: people ignore it.

Oftentimes, success feels like the bolder of Sisyphus, slipping through our hands every time right before we reach the top.

And if you’re committed to your work / art / writing, the work we do can sometimes feel infuriating futile.

But there’s an important difference between the struggle of the entrepreneur and the struggle of Sisyphus:

Our work isn’t futile by nature.

Every climb to the top of the mountain results in experience, lessons learned, and most of all growth.

The climb to the top isn’t futile, IF we learn the right lessons and apply them in future endeavors (and we’re not simply repeating the same motions as before).

Which is where Andrew Warner comes in…

The 2 Most Important Business Lessons I Learned from Andrew Warner

Andrew Warner of Mixergy.comA few weeks back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Warner to interview him for the next issue of Bootstrapped Magazine (the next issue comes out in two weeks, and the new website is under-construction, so stay tuned).

Andrew is the founder of Mixergy.com, one of the premier business training websites in the world.

Andrew has interviewed over 1,000 entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs, from the founder of AirBnB.com to Groupon to LinkedIn to Wikipedia (and everything in between).

The point is: he’s spoken to a lot of high-performers – men and women who have started and operated successful companies, many from scratch.

With so many interviews under his belt, Andrew probably knows a thing or two about what works…and what doesn’t.

Which is why I wanted to ask him that exact question.

The following is a small excerpt from the interview I did with Andrew Warner that will be featured in the next issue of Bootstrapped Magazine. Andrew dishes a lot more gold than this in a lot more detail, so if you enjoy this, you can preorder your copy today.

Enjoy:

TOM: What is the most common problem entrepreneurs’ deal with when they are just starting out?  From the interviews you’ve conducted, what have you found to be the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make right at the beginning?

ANDREW WARNER:    I’ll tell you it happens so much that people must be tired of hearing me saying it, it’s the same mistake I made.  I thought I knew what an invitation site was like because I organize events: “In a few hours I’m going to have some people come to the office for a little event here; on Sunday I’m going to have people come over for brunch in my house,” etc. I organize events all the time.  I use invitations all the time.  I thought I knew everything.  I didn’t realize that we all have our own unique experiences and if we just try to deal with our own pain and our own needs we are not going to necessarily address what other people need.

That’s the problem that I see over and over.

Just the other day I was talking to the founder of Magoosh.  Magoosh is a test prep site that is doing millions in sales.  It didn’t exist four or five years ago and the founder said, “We’re in the business of getting people into business school.  People who we want to cater to are going to take tests.  We’ll get them into business schools.  We know what it takes to do this. What we’re going to create is a user-generated test prep site, where instead of an expert teaching, it will be people who know the task.  We’ll ask questions of people who are trying to learn it, they’ll ask questions of each other, they’ll learn together… Boom.”

One of the investors invested a lot, like $10,000— which is a lot for a student, and it failed.  But they thought they knew the problem; they thought they understood it.  So I said to them, “What are you guys going to do?” And the founder said, “You know, what we decided to do at that point was go and talk to other students and see what they didn’t like about this, and do what THEY wanted.”

It turns out people who are looking to study for big tests do not trust the community.  They want someone that they can put their faith in, who is the expert, who has been doing this for years, who can guide them flawlessly or as close to it as humanly possible.

They discovered, the whole idea of community-generated questions was just never going to work, and so they scrapped it and went in a different direction.

They actually started building a small site using nothing but Balsamiq mockup software and PowerPoint…Then that started to work because they took it out to people and said, “Would this make sense for you?”  And they took the feedback and adjusted until they had something that worked…This is a common story that you hear over and over and over again and we still all make that mistake.

TOM: So what are the most common traits of successful entrepreneurs?

ANDREW WARNER: You know Mark Suster, the venture capitalist, told me that he likes to invest in entrepreneurs who have a chip on their shoulder.  I’ve never heard anyone say that they want to work with entrepreneurs who have a chip on their shoulder.  So I’ve been giving that some thought as I’ve been doing my interviews and what I realized is that there are entrepreneurs who take these setbacks that we all have — the criticism that we all get from the world — and they use it to their advantage.

One entrepreneur told me that every time a venture capitalist turned him down, he added that guy’s name to a list so that when he succeeded he could look back at all the people who missed out.

Now, you take a look at that and that issue could, for many people, cause such inner doubt that they become obsessed with it and become debilitated by it. The doubt of, “Well if this venture capitalist who knows what he’s talking about just turned me down, maybe I have nothing here and shouldn’t continue.”

He took that and made it into an asset. When he thought about one of these guys who turned him down; instead of saying, “Aw, why do I want to do this if Steve doesn’t want to invest in me?” He said, “Steve didn’t want to invest in me, I’m going to show him.”

Your Turn up the Mountain

Two powerful and important lessons:

  • #1: you don’t know the problem or solution – your customer does, so don’t assume anything (ask, learn, and test).
  • #2: you’re going to fail but successful entrepreneurs turn failure into fuel for their fire, setbacks into assets, and anger into positive change.

This is the type of advice that can be hard to hear.

The honest kind always is…

And it’s especially uncomfortable if you’ve continued to try to solve your own problem (without figuring out what people want) or if you base your ideas on the opinions of others (instead of turning that into motivation to prove them wrong).

I’ve definitely been there myself before, trust me (and still make similar mistakes today)…

But that’s the beauty of these lessons:

While your own situation might seem insurmountable – a giant bolder that needs to be pushed to the top of a mountain – it isn’t.

Everything that stands in front of us in this life is conquerable, from writing, to art, to entrepreneurship.

The question is: are you willing to learn, grow, and adapt from your failures; to approach the obstacle that defeated you last time in a new way, with new techniques and strategies; to pivot, even if you’re not sure how, to make something happen (no matter how much it pains you to abandon your first idea)?

No, it’s not easy.

But nothing worthwhile ever is.

Good luck, and keep creating.

Started, finished, and shipped in Banos, Ecuador (under mild Malaria-like symptoms)

Total writing time: 4:45

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I’m writing a book on entrepreneurship, collaborative project development, and how to lead a team to ship a product to market. I explain in-depth how to apply the lessons covered in this blog post (and more) to help you successfully turn your idea into a profitable product or service. Sign up here to get early access and exclusive updates.

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success…”  – Jiro Ono (Jiro Dreams of Sushi)

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a map of the gilisFor the past two months, my wife and I have been traveling around South East Asia.

We’ve spent the majority of our time in Indonesia, with a one-off stop in Singapore for a long weekend (flights were $9 and we needed to renew our Indonesian visas, so it was a no-brainer).

Toward the end of our time in Indonesia, we made a trip to the Gili Islands, just off the coast of Lombok.

There are three Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short), Gili Mano and Gili Air.

Each island has its own unique atmosphere (Gili T is more party, Gili Mano is basically undeveloped, and Gili Air is that quiet middle ground, more suited for honeymooners or people who prefer less crowded locations but all the essential amenities one might need while visiting an island paradise – like Wi-Fi).

We decided to spend the majority of our time on Gili Air.

Artisanship on an Island Paradise

I knew this place was different the moment our wooden boat floated up to its sand and coral beaches.

Unlike most Indonesian cities (and most SE Asian cities for that matter), instead of being greeted by hundreds of taxi cab drivers looking to take all our money (we stand out here), we saw a dozen horse drawn carriages lining the street with not a single moped in sight (again, for SE Asia, this is bizarre).

Courtney and I had done our research, though – Gili Air is only a few square kilometers, meaning everything is in walking distance.

So we started walking.

We had no set plans or booked reservations – we normally wing our travel and this was no exception.

As we walked along the half-cobble, half-sand roads, we were greeted with the standard set of Indonesian idiosyncrasies (smiles, laughter, offers for a place to stay or eat, and lots of ‘mista’ and ‘boss’ thrown into their sentences for good measure), and passed by dozens of independently owned and operated shops.

One shop in particular caught my attention.

gili air artisan

- How do you NOT stop here? -

A little hut, just off the side of the main road (there’s really only one main road in Gili Air), with a sign that read:

Gili Air Artshop Made to Order. Looking is for Free, Smile Included.

But it wasn’t the warm, inviting sign that drew me in; it was the man sitting outside the shop, hacking away at a coconut that did.

His name is Nin.

Nin is an artist.  He carves, paints, and constructs things from wood and other natural materials.  Today, he is carving a necklace out of a coconut.

Watch him work for just a few minutes and you realize a few things:

1. Nin is a professional.  This is his life.  It’s what he does every day for hours a day.  His craftsmanship shows.

2. Nin is an artisan.  He works with his hands to bring his vision to life.  And he’s skilled at it.

3. Nin’s workshop is sustainable in the perfect sense of the word.  He uses discarded wood and coconuts to make his art.  This isn’t for marketing purposes – it’s out of necessity.

Naturally, I had to buy something from Nin.

gili air artisan

- Nin hard at work -

He charged me 200,000 Rupiah for a coconut necklace.

As a point of reference, that’s less than $20 US.  As another point of reference, that’s more than it cost for one night on our beach front bungalow, and about 2 times as much as dinner for two at a high end restaurant on the island.

Depending on how you view it, it might seem like I got ripped off.  Relative to prices on the island, 200,000 Rupiah is quite a bit of money.  And I never bartered (something you’re supposed to do in Indonesia).

Of course, after watching him work, I didn’t want to.

He spent three days carving this necklace from a coconut shell.  Every day, I watched his progress, forming something from (essentially) nothing.

When it was finished, I wondered if 200,000 Rupiah was too little.

The Artisan in the Digital Age

I tell this story for a reason.

First, to point out that artisanship still exists.  All over the world.  And many people just like me are willing to pay a premium for it.

And second, to beg the question:

  • What does it take in the digital age – in the age of pixels, gigabytes, and high resolution – to create something artisan?
  • Is it even possible?
  • Is it worth bleeding over our work when there’s nothing to physically hold at the end of the day?

The Message and the Message Spreader

In the beginning of this essay, I quoted Jiro Ono, a sushi chef made famous from a little documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Jiro’s an artisan.

He lives and breathes the perfect sushi dish.  He’s been doing it every day for over 70 years and will continue until he physically can’t.

Jiro charges over $300 a meal.

He does because he can – because people want to see a master artist at work.

We’re naturally drawn toward those who perfect their craft, who’ve weathered the inner creative battle for decades and come out on top.  And we’re happy to pay a premium just to be in their presence (Jiro’s sushi shop is booked months in advance).

Again, this might solidify the idea that artisanship only exists in the physical realm…

Until I think about how I heard of Jiro.

I’ve never met Jiro in person, nor been to his sushi restaurant.

It was a documentary – a digital download – that brought his work to my attention.  It was this medley of pixels, gigabytes and high resolution that shined a light on his work and his philosophy.

The digital world made this message possible to spread.

And no other medium could have delivered the message with more impact.

We’re Waiting to Pay You a Premium

As entrepreneurs, creators and instigators in the 21st century, a very big part of what we do is online.

Yet instead of killing off what is left of artisanship, I honestly believe it’s helping to grow and expand the roll of the artisan (just listen to some of the interviews I’ve done with true digital artisans like AJ Leon and Dan Adams, among others) .

The artisan storyteller; the artisan craftsman (online and off); the artisan message spreader…

The roll of the artisan is expanding.

The question isn’t one of accessibility or ‘how’ – anyone can be one if they choose.

The question is: are you willing to put in the hours, days, and years (and the sweat, blood, and tears) to create the perfect product or service for the people who matter – the ones who want to hear from you?

My advice?

Start today – before you’re ready.

Because we’re waiting.

And we’re willing to pay a premium.

Started in Gili Air; thrashed in Sydney; finished and shipped in Perth, Australia (while listening to the song Perth by Bon Iver)

Total Writing Time: 3 hours and 8 minutes

Want to support Artisanship in the 21st century?  Subscribe to The Creative Entrepreneur and support an artisanal publication while helping fund entrepreneurs in developing countries.