I often see entrepreneurs pivoting just after a few months from starting their product. Pivoting means drastically changing your business model, as a startup.
Most of the time, pivoting is seen as a positive thing. I met some entrepreneurs who took pride in pivoting several times their business over less than half a year.
For some of them this works, meanings their startup grows, but for many of them it doesn’t.
This raises a couple of very interesting questions (which I will try to address in this blog post)
When do you know it’s time to switch?
When do you cal a certain business setup a failure?
What Type Of Pain Signals That Enough Is Enough?
The need for actually changing a business model comes most of the time from some type of pain. Because nobody wants to change something if it’s working, right? Let’s start from the fact that there is a pain that should be addressed, in the first place.
As opposed to the fact that some entrepreneurs decide to change their business just because it’s cool. Or there is some new exciting technology that they can use. Or this type of testing methodology they want to implement. You know, the hype.
In my experience, pain comes in two flavors. Or two types.
There is the “acute”, intense pain that needs to be addressed instantly, and then there is the constant, undefined pain that most of the times is just a sign of growing up. The “acute” pain is also causing long term damage, whereas the undefined pain is not, but it’s still a pain, it hurts.
Ideally, you should pivot only if there is an “acute” pain (one that, if not addressed, could lead to a lot of long term damage). If there is only “undefined” pain, just keep going.
The real problem arises, of course, when you can’t say which is which. When you mistakenly decide to completely change something drastically, just because there is some pain (without understanding, or correctly discriminating, what type of pain we’re dealing with).
Locus Of Control
I first heard about this concept on an ultra-running website. Like some of you know, I like to run, and I like to run long distances. I finished a few marathons and ultra-marathons so far. And one of the reasons I like to run very long distances is because I get better at other stuff in my life.
Yes, I know it sounds strange, but running made me better at managing my businesses. And one of the concepts that really helped me deal with change management was this “locus of control” thing.
I don’t know if there is a standard definition of it, but I’ll tell you mine.
“Locus of control” is that skill that allows you to push just enough to go beyond your limits in a constant way, but without breaking you down. Yes, there is such a skill.
Let me explain how this works.
As a long distance runner, you get a lot of pain. As you train more and as you become better, the pain changes. Your ability to identify it and manage it changes as well. But you do get a lot of pain. It’s unavoidable.
And the more you run, the more you understand if a certain type of pain should be just accepted as it is, or you should stop. Generally, if there is something acute, like a joint or a muscle, something with a very serious amplitude, it means it will broke soon (or you just witnessed a fracture). That’s when you should stop. Ideally, before the damage occurs.
But apart from this pain, there is also the constant pain emerged from the fact that your body continuously adjusts itself to the effort. That pain is a pain you should take with you. Accept it. Control it in a way. Be mindful of the fact that it’s gonna be there for a while.
A very interesting way of discriminating which is which is that the “constant” pain moves across various parts of the body. The “acute” pain stays in the same part, it doesn’t “leave”. It’s kinda hard to understand how this “pain migration” works if you didn’t experience it before, but I’ll try to explain.
It goes like this: first you have this thing in the abdomen, like stopping you from breathing. But you stay there, keep the pace, try to relax, and, in a few kilometers, that specific pain is gone. And then the pain moves in your left ankle. But you stay there, keep moving and try to adjust your running and then, in a few kilometers, that specific pain moves in another part of your body. And it goes like this for ten, twenty or one hundred kilometers.
And because you have this very subtle type of awareness, you can tell which is which.
This is “locus of control”.
When It Breaks Down
As a runner, you do experience also severe, acute pain, with a big potential for long term damage.
I’ve been through an acute pain during Ultrabalaton. It manifested in the form of sole blisters and I had to carry it with me for about 10 hours (or 75 kilometers).
I call it “acute” pain because it resulted in some kind of long term damage (and it didn’t moved around, it stayed in the same place). My toenails were completely destroyed for at least six months. The big toes from both feet only had a complete nail again in like 9 months. Apart from that, I got a specific numbness in my feet also for half a year. It was really bad. The recovery process was slow.
Now I know what to do when this comes. I know when it’s time to stop. In startup terms, it means I know when to pivot.
Locus Of Control In Business
So, if we’re explaining “locus of control” from the runner’s perspective, everybody gets it. But how about business? How should we define “acute” pain and “undefined” (pun intended) pain?
Well, in my experience, an “acute” pain is something that invalidates your business entirely. If, for instance, you run out of cash for 6 consecutive months, (because you couldn’t raise more, because you couldn’t generate more from sales, etc) that’s acute. That could lead to potential long term damage, because in 6 months, in our world, a market can dramatically change (especially in areas like technology, where the majority of startups are playing). So, even if you get cash after 6 months, I think you should rethink your business model.
As opposed to that, an “undefined” pain could be represented by competition or low productivity. That doesn’t lead to long term problems, because they can be addressed somehow. It’s like a pain that you should accept and still move forward. Competition will always be there. It’s just part of the game. So it’s low productivity. You just have to cope with that. Like a runner keeps running, keeps pushing and the pain will change from one part of the body to the other.
So, if you’re an entrepreneur reading this, and you think of changing the business model, try asking first this question: it is really necessary? Stop for a while, look around and try to understand: the pain that I’m trying to address will lead to long term damages if we don’t stop, or we should just cope with it?
And try to understand that the “locus of control” can be created and improved only if you keep doing something.
Even if you had an “acute” pain experience, recover, analyze, understand what went wrong and run again.
That’s actually the key sentence: keep running 🙂