How to Fail Less at the Start

Starting anything from scratch is no easy task. The odds are stacked against you.

While starting companies, divisions, departments and even a new role will always come with a highly likelihood of failure, there’s more than a few things to be said about putting yourself in the best possible position NOT to fail.

From years of failures, usually 20 or so before I hit paydirt, there is definitely a number of things that you can do to help yourself out.

Here’s 10 things to think about when it comes to failing less at the start.

(Regardless of outcome, always remember that failure does not mean the end of the world. Failure lies behind every success.)

Have a budget and manage a profit and loss statement from the beginning

Numbers don’t lie. Understanding the total available investment or budget prior to starting anything is critical for you. A definitive number makes goal setting realistic and time frames for success or financial return clear. Having this number to start and a profit/loss statement based on it that is reviewed each month makes the financial realities more clear for the team around you.

Know your drop-dead date

There is only so much money and time provided to you for an investment return. It is vital that the number of months an operation can remain viable with existing cash reserves is known across the entire team. Doing this will ensure your work efforts are better prioritized and the urgency to deliver is heightened. It’s also a great way to understand your investment partner’s expectations.

Speak with investors and stakeholders frequently

Unless you are using all of your own money (in which case you may already be talking to yourself) to start, it is paramount that frequent, open and candid conversations are had with your investors and key stakeholders about progress or lack thereof. Remember that it’s their money, name, reputation, life too. Not only is this a simple respect thing, it also allows you to demonstrate command of the operation, project potential pitfalls, discuss failures and even gain empathy, which will be needed often in any early stage company, business unit or project.
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What Has Garrett Been Doing? A 90 Day Update

Starting your own business is like walking across an invisible bridge a la Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom. A little bit of faith to know its there, mixed with fearlessness to get you to take the first steps across is what’s needed to succeed.

Happy New Year! Hope you rang it in with style.

It’s been exactly 90 days since I left VoIP Supply to launch Pitch + Pivot, a sales and marketing consultancy, that provides expertise, advice, execution that drives revenue growth, new customer acquisition and organizational change for startups, early stage and transitioning companies.

Many of you, because of the holidays, or out your own curiosity, have been reaching out in recent weeks to see how things are going. Rather than try to respond in kind to everyone individually, I thought I’d write out this post for those of you who may have been wondering (and anyone else).

(If you already know what I’ve been up to, please skip ahead to signing-up for my newsletter.)

It’s simpler to send a link then write this out hundreds of times. Shoot me 🙂

Taking the leap of faith

As you might imagine, deciding to leave a role that you created at a company you’ve helped build for almost a decade can be scary. It was for me, the first few weeks. It as well as humbling, challenging…and the one thing no emphasizes enough, a lot of FUN!

I once read that entrepreneurs don’t know the outcome of what they are attempting, they just aren’t scared to fail. That the most successful of people will tell you they have no idea what they are doing, but they will however tell you they are finding themselves.

When it comes to this recent journey, finding myself I am. Scared of what comes next, positive or negative, I no longer am.

I know this is the direction I need to be going.

Not lost, but still not found

The last 90 days have been an incredible journey of self reflection, gut checks, thinking and exploring who I am and what I should be doing with my personal and professional life.

I’m not exactly lost, but I haven’t yet completely found my calling. Or at least fully realized it yet.

That’s why over the last 90 days I’ve been blessed, humbled and overwhelmed by the support from my first set of clients across a number of engagements. These great set of folks have shown faith in my abilities, belief in the future I would like to build and allow me to deliver value each and every day.

Thanks to them, I’m finding my way and Pitch + Pivot is off to a great start. If you’re reading, you rock.

Thanks again.

Zero to this is a business in 90 days

Over the last 90 days I’ve been fortunate enough to engage a number of companies about their sales/marketing problems and have secured a number of engagements that have me booked through 2014.

From trainings to strategic business planning, building channel sales programs to executing on SEO campaigns, there’s been no one size fits all package yet, but the work is fun, pays the bills and is making some profit for reinvestment into growth, new ideas or a rainy day.

It’s times like these I thank my lucky stars for a lot of the work done early in my career. Without the opportunities made available, constant hustle and that darn blog I started, I wouldn’t have had the network to tap into and turn Pitch + Pivot into a real business, with real potential to grow beyond initial expectation, this quickly.

We’re no McKinsey or R/GA, but are delivering results, changing mindsets and transforming the way our clients do business. I don’t see Pitch + Pivot stopping its current growth any time soon and I said “we” just now because I am looking forward to bringing on my first full time employees over the coming months.

But before I get to all that…

The next 90 days

If I thought the first 90 days went by fast, was a little hairy and often chaotic, the next 90 days should put me to the test. At least that’s how the plan is looking.

While successful in closing a number of engagements, it has become very clear that solo consulting, advisement, mentoring and even project execution has its limits. Nothing wrong with that per se, because it’s a joy handcrafting everything yourself, except with my personality type, I know it will lead to burnout quickly.

After reflecting, I realized that I’d get the same joy out of helping others build their own practice, in the same areas as mine or in complementary ones to increase Pitch + Pivot’s offerings. Plus someone to help cover so I can take a vacation would be nice.

Soon I will begin recruiting for some positions and contractors to assist me in the execution of certain projects, freeing my time to be spent on the most critical client tasks, while also allowing for some time to build complementary offerings to our consulting services. Over the next 90 days, I will also be spending my early mornings and weekends creating standalone education and training products.

It’s my hope that these products eventually forming the basis for a much larger idea that’s been swirling around in my head for a while now.

While I’d always like face-to-face sessions and project execution to be a part of what I do, but in reality I also want to find ways to reach and help more people. I know this can be done through writing, audio and video.

The next best thing to me or someone smarter than me in the flesh. From a Pitch + Pivot business perspective it also makes sense to have a lower touch, more scalable service at a price point any business, or person, can afford.

Okay, I’m starting to sound a bit Tony Robbins here. It’s not like that, I promise.

Stay tuned for more on this as it unfolds over the coming months.

Keep in touch with my first product

One product that I have had wanted to create for years was a newsletter.

I like to write and every day I read so many articles, send to my social media feeds and share privately via email. I thought that it’d be valuable to pull that all into a newsletter on business sales, marketing, development, optimization and transformation.

Design it around a monthly topic with original commentary, editorial on that topic and you’ve got a resource you look forward to receiving.

Well, that’s what I am building. It’s almost finished.

You can sign-up here. You’ll be smarter and more successful if you do.

More details to come to those who sign-up, but expect the first email to come near the end of this month.

I appreciate your support.

Thanks for reading, don’t hesitate to connect

We’re already at 1,061 words, hitting my quota for the day. I guess that means I should wrap this up.

And thank you for reading through to this point.

I hope you have a successful start to your quarter and I look forward to hearing from you in the coming weeks.

Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+.

All my best,

P.S. Don’t forget to sign-up for the newsletter either. It’ll be the best way to stay in touch with me.

10 Takeaways From Startup Weekend Buffalo

Last weekend was Startup Weekend Buffalo.

It was an impressive and inspiring event. Over 150 attendees formed 16 different teams.

The goal? To create a Minimum Viable Product and pitch it to judges in less than 54 hours.

Yep, that sounds about right for entrpreneurs, huh?

I was fortunate to attend as one of the mentors, an experience with such an impact I’m still thinking about.

Hence this post.

Despite doing my best, I have to admit I think I took away MORE than I gave. The ability to interact with so many people with so many ideas provided enormous insight into the initial startup process.

Plus the diverse perspectives due to the very mixed backgrounds of everyone really gave one a lot to think differently about.

That’s why I decided to sit down an write down ten takeaways from my Startup Weekend Buffalo experience:

  1. There’s a passionate core of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial spirits, mentors and people in this area who deeply care about increasing the number of  businesses created. Great talent is here and great companies can be built.
  2. Learning is the real first prize in any entrepreneurial experience. Cash, fame and chicks are nice, but the knowledge and confidence gained from an entrepreneurial experience is priceless.
  3. Experience matters when it comes to idea development, especially in the Startup Weekend format. The three teams that placed all were teams who had experience building things (and likely doing it in a short period). Practice still makes perfect.
  4. Business is all about solving problems, even if the solution is not going to change the world. What the problem is, how many people have the problem and how you will solve it remain the pillars of any good startup idea.
  5. The ability to speak articulately about your product/service/business/startup from a concept/benefit point of view is an opportunity to immediately differentiate yourself from the competition.
  6. Ideas are conveyed best when told through a vivid story. Those teams that had a story or painted a picture made it much easier for everyone to understand and follow along. Stories improve understanding and comprehension.
  7. Idea development follows a process that starts with that creative spark, but is then followed by an often difficult period of distilling the idea down to MVP and a tantalizing five minute pitch. Having a idea development process is important in getting to MVP in a short time. A little bit of process helps  (even for Startup Weekend).
  8. Having a to-do list or using lightweight project management software to focus a team on what’s most important, even for short periods, is good. A lightweight planning framework, including general timelines for the weekend and tasks to be completed would be a huge help. Projects need to be managed.
  9. The clearer your thoughts are about your idea, the better your pitch will be. Developing the pitch, or selling your idea, isn’t easy.
  10. The ideas that seem to drive the most interest from investors are blackbox, while the best businesses for most entrepreneurial folks may be execution and experience plays. Doesn’t mean execution and experience plays are bad, just don’t plan on raising huge rounds.

Oh, and I guess I did have one more takeaway. Next time I think I need to participate!