- Lance Johnson 12.23.2014
Some entrepreneurs may have an overnight success on their hands when they launch their new business, but not all. In fact, a large number of start-ups fail to turn a profit at all. I suspect, though, that most entrepreneurs find that they’re in the middle of these two extremes – they are able to make a reasonable living for themselves, but that’s about it. Green Egg Media spent its first five years like that. We did well enough, but growth seemed elusive.
So, what do you do if you find yourself in that situation? Do you look at comparable companies that seem successful and learn from them? Do you read all the books you can find on running a business? Do you hire consultants and marketers? Many people spend a great deal of time and money trying to hack their way to a more successful business by making changes here and there. Maybe you can manage success that way, but instead of exploring those staid methods, today, we’re looking at some more dramatic options.
This is a pretty extreme action. After all, you may have already spent years building up your business, so why would you want to throw it away? Last year I was talking with a friend and fellow web development company owner, and it became apparent that he was stuck – he had a lot of clients, but no clear growth path. He was building some recurring revenue with his clients, but his main source of income was just project work. “You’ll always be working,” I said, adding, “you’ll never be able to retire this way.”
Sometimes a business just makes you busy. If you can’t see a way that your business can exist without you, you might be in the same shoes that my friend was. If you’re a real entrepreneur, having such a dismal looking future for your company is likely pretty depressing. So why spend another few years trudging along just to end up in the same place? It seems extreme, but you might consider cutting your losses now and selling what you have or pivoting your business and starting over.
In the entrepreneurial spirit, there is an excitement in starting something from scratch. This might be a great change to completely reinvent you business.
Maybe you’re not an ideas person. That’s OK. You don’t have to have a million ideas to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit. There are plenty of people out there who have ideas, but who have no way to make those ideas a reality. Track down some of those people and consider joining their teams as a co-founder.
Yes, this might mean that you have to work for little or no pay for a while, but if you are passionate about your work, the benefits of being the co-founder of a business that has a lot of potential for growth should more than make up for the temporary lack of income.
Several years ago, one of our clients actually invited me to leave Green Egg Media and join their venture as the technical co-founder. It was tempting, but after some due diligence I decided that Green Egg Media still had a huge amount of untapped potential that I wanted to unlock. I loved the work we were doing at GEM, and I loved helping clients solve problems. I considered it a real honor when this client approached me with the request, and it made me very proud of the work we had produced for them.
Even if you don’t find yourself in this same position, there are still many options for you. If you live in larger metropolitan areas, consider attending Meetup events in related to your area of interest. Or, if you’re open to connecting with people from across the country, you might consider Co-Founders Lab.
According to the Gallup organization, people are vastly more productive when they able to focus on their strengths, rather than work on overcoming their weaknesses. This seems pretty counter-intuitive in the modern world where we constantly receive messages telling us that we should be “well-rounded.” The data, though, shows that when we focus on our weaker areas, while we might see some marginal improvement, when we focus on our strengths, we can actually see improvement orders of magnitude greater.
Investing in Strengths (Gallup Whitepaper)
Start by asking yourself the question, “what am I good at?” Once you have an answer to that question, rather than simply try to sell that skill to others, look at where you might be able to leverage it more effectively in unexpected areas. If you’re a talented online marketer, rather than start an online marketing agency, consider starting a subscription box service that you can promote with your skills.
My friend Andrew found himself in a similar position not too long ago. Andrew is a very talented paramedic. While he has had some success providing medical training courses, his knowledge of medical certifications and how those certifications are handled by employers of medical personnel has led him to start a completely separate business building a technical product to help with compliance issues. Andrew’s skill set isn’t the technical side, but he saw a hole in the market, and he has set out to fill it.
You can probably find something like this. Rather than look for ways to simply sell your skills, think about other business ideas where your strengths might be leveraged to move you into a whole new market.
Perhaps you have a business that is currently making enough money to get by, but the future isn’t particularly bright. Or perhaps you are employed full time elsewhere, but feel trapped. If you’re making a decent wage now, but don’t have much cushion, calling it quits today might not be very sensible.
If you don’t see a lot of upside with your current opportunities, you might consider starting something else on the side.
On the plus side, your risk is substantially mitigated this way. You can continue to earn a living from your existing business or job, while you plan, build, and begin to scale your new idea. This was actually an important part of the Green Egg Media story.
The idea for Green Egg Media was first hatched back in September, 2007, when I was traveling to Chicago to visit a friend. At the time, I was working for UC Berkeley as an administrator in the Financial Planning & Budget office. My friend, Adam, was working for a television production company that made shows for the like of the Travel and History channels. While we both had stable work that we generally enjoyed, we both felt like our potential was being limited. 6 months later, in March, 2008, Green Egg Media opened its doors. Adam decided to go full throttle and committed 100% of his time from the start, while I opted to become a part-time employee at the University to keep some positive cash flow while GEM was starting up. It worked, and the following year, I left the University of California and have been focused on Green Egg Media since.
Other companies that have successfully been born out of side projects include Twitter (born out of Odeo), Basecamp, Umba, and Craigslist.
Some people may not have the inclination or capacity to really focus on two things at once, but if you do, this might be your most suitable route.
It might seem that startups like Airbnb, Dropbox, Digital Ocean or Sendgrid just appear out of thin air, but the reality is that these startups benefited from tech incubators, Y Combinator in the case of the first two, and Techstars in the case of the last two. While these two top the Forbes list of tech incubators, there are others out there, in almost every major city in the United States.
Getting accepted to the best incubators is quite difficult, but not impossible if you and your team show promise. There are several major benefits of tech incubators. First, they provide funding to their selected companies, allowing you to focus 100% of your effort on your business. Second, these incubators give their companies access to entrepreneurs-in-residence and a rolodex of contacts from their portfolio of companies. A third key benefit of incubators is the collegial atmosphere creating among each cohort.
What if you don’t already have a business idea? Don’t let that stop you! If you are talented, many incubators will consider taking you in and pairing you up with one of their teams to fill in a gap. For instance, Jason Calacanis from LAUNCH.co recently announced The LAUNCH Incubator, and just two weeks ago he announced that they were accepting applications from solo designers and developers who might be interested in taking part in the 12-week Incubator sessions, having the chance to meet each of the teams in the cohort and see if there’s a mutual fit.
Incubators aren’t likely to accept teams or individuals who are green or simply “willing to learn.” They are looking for people who have real skills and talents, but who need the financial and human capital to really leverage those skills into something revolutionary. If you have the skills and are willing to be a team player, this could be a great option for you. On the other hand, if you’re a “lone wolf,” you might want to look elsewhere… though you might be surprised what you can do with a team if you just give it a chance.
If your current business (or even job) just isn’t floating your boat anymore, or if you’re concerned that there’s not much future in it, the five ideas explored here can help you get off on the right foot with your next move.
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