How do you avoid oblivion?
This question has plagued me this semester as we’ve learned how to be a disrupter, how to innovate and how to be successful as a startup. I recognize that, as a startup, you have to worry much more about the present than some distant, uncertain future. But it’s bothered me. Once you get there, what do you do?
The distant future
The easy answer to avoid being disrupted yourself is to keep innovating. Did you laugh? I laughed when I wrote it, because it’s easy to say. It’s much harder to do, especially when you don’t know where to start.
Peter Shankman, a serial entrepreneur, explains in a blog post that the way to do it is to encourage your employees to think bigger.
That’s the way the companies “leading the pack” are doing it.
Shankman says, “There’s no question that companies should welcome employees who get excited, companies should want employees to dream about the future. It’s only when employees are encouraged to think bigger by management that they can create new things and launch products and ideas that will become commonplace tomorrow.”
I still see a problem though, specifically in the in-between time. What do you do when you’ve gained some traction in your market and you finally have the capacity to start branching out, but you’ve still only got a handful of full-time staff and only so many resources to go around? How do you build a culture of continuous innovation without spreading yourself too thin?
Where do you draw the line, when you still have to draw one?
Shankman spoke with our class via Skype, and I asked him this very question. He came through again. Shankman said to give aspects of the project to the person best capable of handling them.
Shankman acknowledges he’s a terrible manager, so he allows someone else to take on that responsibility. You can structure your startup in a way that works for you. Just because your employee Andrea comes up with an amazing app idea, doesn’t mean she should carry all aspects of the project. If her strengths are writing and graphic design, have her work with Ken the public relations person and Maddie the programmer to build and promote her app.
We encourage journalists to be “backpack journalists.” It’s not the same for startups. There is no right or wrong way to structure your company, and no one needs to be all things to all facets of the company.
To be successful, or “make it,” to where you can expand, Shankman had a few suggestions too. My favorite quote was “get the audience you want by being nice to the audience you have.”
Shankman says in his TEDx Talk that having an audience is a privilege not a right. You have to earn your audience. You don’t earn it by innovating, you earn it by creating real value for your customers.
“You have to have some reason for them to trust you,” Shankman told our class. “When you start to benefit them, that’s when they start to like you.”
Your success in the meantime really depends on two ingredients. The first is a strong understanding of your target market. It is the most important thing, according to the PMARCA Guide to Startups.
The second is what Ken Doctor describes in his article for NiemanLab on rebuilding the news media. Pulling from the book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Doctor calls us to share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours and say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
Or as Shankman puts it in his TEDx Talk, “one level above crap is considered nice in today’s society. It doesn’t take that much.”