Every entrepreneur should be thinking about what can happen if you don’t keep your pulse on where the consumer is headed. Your business might be in front now, but any event or disruptor can change your position quickly.
Back in the fall of 2003 when I was a senior producer at CBS, I had a call with the founder of Friendster, one of the first widely used social networking platforms. I wanted to pursue a fun story on how the younger generation was connecting with the fast-growing social network. (This was well before Facebook was even on our radars.) In New York, seemingly everyone was using the platform, as it was becoming a trendy way to meet new people.
On our call, I was surprised when the founder turned down the opportunity to be on national TV. I found myself selling him on how this national exposure could elevate his brand and bring in more users. The conversation ended when he told me, “We’re already growing too fast. We don’t need any more exposure.”
Over the years, I’ve worked with startup disruptors similar to that founder who forced industry leaders to change their business models. I’ve also run media campaigns for existing industry leaders who found themselves suddenly losing market share to smaller brands.
Each situation is different, but here are three mantras I try to always keep at the forefront of my business. These mantras are based on watching established organizations fight off new threats and young startups strive to become leaders in their space:
Disruption doesn’t happen overnight.
There’s a cliche in business that disruption can happen overnight. I don’t see it that way. Yes, a new technology can disrupt a business model after it’s introduced and adopted, but that doesn’t take into account the lead-up to developing the technology and time for market penetration.
This is why I don’t suggest looking at your competitors when it comes to identifying potential threats to your leadership position. Instead, look toward the hungry startups that are underground right now.
Let me give you a real-life example from a branding campaign my public relations firm launched: In 2012, Tinder was developed with the idea that singles didn’t want to take the time to fill out long dating profiles. Users wanted instant connections, so Tinder turned the existing online dating model upside down by telling singles to just swipe left or right.
A few years later, Tinder had millions of users. That’s when an established online dating leader reached out to me and asked for help with their brand. They needed to figure out in real-time how to adapt to consumers who were quickly dropping their website for Tinder. But this isn’t a story on what we did. It’s a lesson about how this situation could have been prevented.
Tinder didn’t come out of nowhere. It likely took months to develop their mobile app and longer for their introduction to singles. It didn’t happen overnight, just like Facebook didn’t expand from the Harvard campus to the world overnight. Had the leader been paying attention to the underground, they would have adapted to the threat before being disrupted.
Don’t have a backup plan to failing.
In business, we always need a back-up plan to our back-up plan. It’s a fact of life. But that’s different from having a backup plan to closing the doors for good.
Most budding entrepreneurs confront this at some time in their life. I, too, did it in the early years of this PR firm. I was questioning if I should close the business and go back to TV. It’s a different sector, but here’s an example of why you can’t have a backup plan if you want to challenge industry leaders:
Years ago, I ran the media campaign for an unknown congressional challenger who was taking on the incumbent. He was stressed out when one day, he opened up on why he couldn’t lose. He said, “I don’t have a backup plan. This is all I got. I’ve put everything into this campaign.” And guess what? The candidate won and defeated the incumbent.
For practical purposes, this unknown candidate was the startup, while the incumbent was the establishment. I’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t have a back-up plan to failing,” from other entrepreneurs, and I can tell you, it’s a fearful motivator when you don’t have a backup plan to bankruptcy. From my perspective, creativity and ingenuity helped my firm develop (what I believe) is a more efficient and effective business model for PR. I knew there was no backup plan to closing the doors.
Make sure you and your team are happy and healthy.
The entrepreneurial life can be lonely and exhausting. It’s not easy to prioritize your wellness and stay smiling when you’re seeing a spreadsheet that shows red. I’ve worked with a few successful entrepreneurs who opened up to me about their fears and stress, but they weren’t looking for pity; they were expressing themselves. By the end of the conversation, they always elevated my energy and spirit.
I’ve also noticed how these entrepreneurs considered their health and well-being a priority. That’s not always easy when you’re living on the road or working late. Yet somehow, every one of these entrepreneurs found the will and the time to stay healthy and even motivate others.
I believe freedom and purpose can help bring happiness to us as beings. I think this also applies to leadership and the workplace. Give your yourself and your employees the freedom to make their own choices and contribute value to the company. Even if you already know the answer, engage them so they can feel and see the contribution they are making. If they’re happy with work and have the freedom to enjoy that happiness, then I think you’ve done your part.
Maybe these weren’t the insights you were expecting, but in my experience, keeping an eye on disruptors, refusing to fail and prioritizing happiness can help your business win the race.