When life gives me lemons I tend to think about opening a lemonade stand. There is always a bright side, always an opportunity even if it looks pretty drab and dreary. Bright sides don’t need to be bold and loud like rainbows and kittens, they are most often subtle. Developing the techniques and way to overcome obstacles, leverage hurdles and come out stronger, faster and wiser than before is ultimately what is going to get us to the finish line.
When I enter the room a lot of attention gets drawn to my limp. The limp: I am quite proud of it since I have only been able to have it for a couple of months. Before that, I was re-learning to walk.
I want you to learn from my obstacle. Leverage my experience to prepare your startup and team. Think of yourselves as startup hurdle athletes. Before long you will be framing blue ribbons!
Finding that extra special developer was hard and the designer was even harder. Don’t even think about leaving out that amazing sales person; startups love their talent. However, the conversation around points of failure helps identify how to distribute or eliminate risk. Instead of being worried about the most import widget breaking in the night or the servers going down because someone tripped over the power cable you have to consider what if one of the team gets hit by a bus? Okay, not literally hit by a bus (knock on wood) but somehow out of commission.
“Unfortunately, most startups don’t have any slack in the system and the hit by bus factor is very high. If a random life event causes someone on your team to have to leave your office for a week or for a month make sure to give your teammates the tools to work from where ever they happen to be.”- Wade Foster, 23 Things That Don’t Matter When Starting a Startup and 2 Things That Do
What Really Matters – The Must Have List
So, while it wasn’t a bus… I did get hit by a car…
In May, coming home from a networking event in Seattle, my husband, one year old daughter and I were plowed into. Thankfully the auto collision only put me out of commission. Two surgeries later, I found myself unable to do most of what I loved, things I had taken for granted. I hadn’t planned for what would need to be done in order to cover my workload.
- Take care of myself or my family
- Take care of our farm
What I was able to do:
- Write with my left hand
- Work on my communication skills
- Ask for what I needed
I learned to get scrappy like never before.
Developing a list of Must Haves is essential for all reading this. Yes, that means you too. While I preach the skill of developing a Must Have Vs Nice To Have list, it is often to an audience who is sold on the idea but hasn’t yet been pushed to do it. I don’t recommend waiting until you get knocked out of commission to do it.
If the Must Have on your list includes going back to square one and fixing product flaws then that should get done before you spend a dime on designing a new logo. Must Haves are things that will improve your current position, help you use resources effectively or support your bigger vision even if your key team member needs to do a few months of physical therapy and watch a lot of old TV shows.
If it’s not on that Must Have list, it doesn’t get allocated time. The list is flexible, it evolves just as my Must Have list went from “update LinkedIn profile” to “complete physical therapy” to “regain use of right hand.”
Evolving doesn’t mean changing everything; it means focusing on what will allow you to adapt, remain nimble and be able to take on challenges. Allowing yourself to be changed by obstacles is like allowing sandpaper to do it’s magic polishing your skills. Your ability to change course, get creative, cut costs, utilize your network and tackle bigger problems will come with patience and practice.
The Ever Changing Hurdles
If life only gave us one set of hurdles we could learn to master them in grade school. Bam! Done. Mastered. However, life stays interesting and we are thrown into a mix of different scenarios. Sometimes the hurdles are exciting and fun like choosing which Angel Investor to work with or they are hard like having to fire half of the sales staff. In order to leverage hurdles we must continue to re-evaluate our strengths as well as weaknesses.
What You Need to Do
- Consider the Bus Factor: Let’s call it the “won the lotto and decided to take a six month vacation” factor. Who has knowledge know one else knows? Important data like passwords and account information should be easily accessible to other qualified members of staff.
- Have a Plan: Setup times and meetings to do knowledge transfers. Take notes or, even better, record the session. Information overload might set in early if the knowledge is specialized and has a steep learning curve.
- Know what MUST Be Done: Watching my husband play State of Decay, a game that throws you into a Zombie infested town and expects you to survive on dwindling resources reminds me about the Must Have list. What absolutely needs to be maintained, taken care of or dealt with to keep the heat on and food on the table until things are normal again?
- Start Preparing Now: Just like an athlete, it takes time to take on challenges like a marathon. As you go, you learn. Sharing those insights with your staff will level them up faster towards the superhero team your business needs.
Cheers to those of you who have been able to maneuver obstacles from lack of resources, losing talent, to a competitor jumping in and gobbling up market share. If you are reading this, you have plowed forward and I commend your sweat and hard work.