I’ve turned over this Insights to Elizabeth White Baker, Ph.D. She is the managing member of two start-up firms, MATTS, LLC and Tick Rover, LLC, and an assistant professor of information systems at UNCW’s Cameron School of Business. She is using this space well by providing her reflections on the dynamics of entrepreneurship.
“Pivoting is not the end of the disruption process, but the beginning of the next leg of your journey.” Jay Samit, author
There is no time in the journey of an entrepreneur that the path is completely clear and straightforward. As the co-founder of three startups (one successfully exited and two going concerns), I can say with great confidence that if we knew exactly where we needed to go all of the time to have the businesses be successful, I’d be a liar. Indeed, part of the deep excitement and satisfaction that entrepreneurship brings is navigating a map that is constantly fluid, where new opportunities and markets spring up out of nowhere to be seized on by the prepared. Yet, the flipside of this “opportunities” coin is that of challenges, where unforeseen and unanticipated obstacles pop up right where they were never supposed to be, causing great stress and the need to immediately reorient to the new circumstances (or risk being swept under by not reorienting).
Springtime is the ultimate unexpected upside in nature. Who in their right mind would anticipate that after a brutal winter season where plants lose their foliage and are frozen in growth, subjected to all of the cold and indignity of harsh weather, that these plants would all of a sudden bloom back to life? Does the act of pruning plants make any sense at all? You mean you need to cut something away to encourage more growth? I can envision the scenario of the world’s first farmer, the ultimate entrepreneur if there ever was one. Here he is, trying to convince his friend that by putting this seed in the ground, covering it with dirt and waiting while it looked to all reasonable people that nothing at all was happening that the farmer was going to get a large plant with the capability of being consumed. Even better, this plant would generate more seeds to continue regrowth, repeating the process over and over again. Can you imagine the look on that friend’s face? Do you think a product like a seed described by its product attributes would be funded on Shark Tank? Would you back it with your own money?
The spring in Wilmington is even more dramatic for the resident entrepreneur. With the environment of warming weather, blooming flowers, and increased energy all around, this is the perfect time to revisit those business growth and opportunities plans, to reengage in those productive relationships, to prepare for the inevitable changes and obstacles sure to come, and gather momentum for all of the changes to come.
For us at MATTS (getmatts.com), it is time to launch our new marketing campaign and plan product features for the next iteration of our product. The first two years of the company were extremely challenging, making the founders question our sanity and perseverance. Knowing that there is a community of support that our company can tap into, such as that at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and other groups in the area, makes moving forward that much easier by fostering the encouragement and access to resources necessary to be successful.
Before we all head off and continue to work on that endless list of entrepreneurship to-dos, remember that choosing to pivot is the underlying key to ultimate entrepreneurial success, whether in response to a new opportunity or in response to “clarity” in the path your firm needs to take. Pivoting is never failure, always adjustment and advancement. The situation only becomes failure if you choose not to pivot.
Ron Vetter is associate provost of research and dean of the Graduate School at UNC Wilmington. CIE is an accelerator for the startup community to help diversify the local economy with innovative companies that will pay higher wages. For more information, go to www.uncw.edu/cie.
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