Challenge the status quo

What is the one thing driving startup opportunity in the post-pandemic era?

The willingness of everybody to challenge the status quo and be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things and – with that – new products and services from new and inspiring companies with strong value propositions.

Now, what is the status quo?

Actually it is two things. And most of us are eager to leave both behind.

There is the status quo of the pandemic lockdown. Of course we want to be rid of that and get our freedom back.

But there is also the status quo of what was before the pandemic, and where we have had more than a full year contemplating what if anything that was before we would like to change. And how changing things are actually – even if forced by a pandemic – (by and large) less painful than what we imagined it to be.

Look at it this way:

The barriers of “that isn’t possible” or “I don’t need that” have been lowered by the past 12+ months of Covid-19.

If that isn’t a signal of opportunity to reimagine and reinvent things, I don’t know what is.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Regulation as a business model

One of the most potent business models, you can have, is if the use of your product or service is directly mandated by law. Or, in the absence of the complete model, heavily subsidized by law.

When something becomes a law, it automatically drives decisions; people and organizations are required to do x, y and purchase z – your product – to stay within the law or at least get subsidized by the government (which has roughly the same effect on helping grow your revenues).

What could be better?

Let’s say you’re in HealthTech. You may not necessarily be required by law, but indirectly the laws governing subsidies for specific treatments can materialize into official recommendation for treatments that specifically includes your product or service.

You become a de facto public standard.

If you can make it to this point, you have really got it made.

Getting there, though, is super, super hard. Because if there are things, you don’t control and should have no ambition to even try to control let alone influence heavily, it’s lawmaking and the creation of rules and regulations.

Ok, you could have the ambition to influence it. But the obvious risk is that by choosing that as a focus, you end up spending your time and effort in the wrong way.

Because no matter your best efforts, you have absolutely no guarantee that you will end up being successful in your endeavors. Quite on the contrary; the overwhelming risk is that you will come up short. And then you will have nothing to show for it.

The best thing you can do is therefore to figure out where you can join to apply gentle pressure – trade organizations of any sort, special interest groups – and then show up, when there is an opportunity to do so, speak your case. And then let them do the heavy lifting for you.

That will effectively allow you to have a leg in both camps: On the one hand you’re trying to influence a development that furthers your ambition in the long run, while you’re busy executing on your business plan on the short term.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Passion versus perspective

When you’re passionate about something, it is very easy to let passion get the better of you and lose the grander perspective on things.

That’s the trouble with passion; it has a capacity to leave you blind-sighted during the very times when you need perspective the most. You focus too much on the here and now rather on what could come next.

But on the other hand passion is also a huge source of energy.

Not only when things go well, and you feel like you can just keep on going because you’re on a quest.

But also when things are falling off the rails, because that’s when you use the energy of your passion to grind your teeth, keep on going and figure out what to do next.

But it still takes an ability to keep your eyes and – most especially – your mind open to the perspective.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

A new financial virus?

I am fascinated by the whole Gamestop/Reddit debacle.

Personally, I am no big fan of hedge funds, and I don’t mind if they are taken to the cleaners and have some of their own methods and ways of thinking reversed onto themselves.

What concerns me is the blueprint sitting beneath this.

Because now we seem to have one;

Now we know you can organize the masses stoked on free money from stimulus packages and non-existing interest rates using free software tools and take on big financial institutions and potentially win. Maybe not a complete victory but more than enough to make the big players feel severe pain.

I am thinking about who and/or what is next?

I have this creepy feeling of deja vu back to little over a year ago, when the first reports of an unknown virus caused a new kind of pneumonia in some remote place in China, most of us had never heard about.

This too could spread. And what are we potentially looking at then?

I don’t think the masses are going to stand back. They are on a high right now having just won and looking for the next prize. That’s the mechanics of gambling; keep going – until you have lost it all again.

If regulators are being pushed to increase regulatory oversigt, it shouldn’t be to save big financial institutions.

It should be to protect us from (unintended) ripple effects.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Arghh, it’s good enough

“They will love it, when they see it. And they will realize that this is just what they have been waiting for.”

Trying to build something for a market that’s nascent is super hard on so many levels. Yet, it is also one of those areas where time and time again, I meet founders who seem determined that their novel idea is going to take the world with storm, once they unleash it.

It is almost as if the future customers have just been waiting for this new breakthrough. Without knowing it of course.

Reality is it seldom happens that way.

Breaking into a new market let alone creating a new market and a demand in it is super, super hard. And founders who think it’s just a matter of making the technology work are doing themselves and their chances for success a big disservice.

Because what you’re up against is the most dreaded practical barrier of them all:

Good enough.

While they may not be using the optimal solution today, maybe what they have just works for their needs.

Maybe they have become so accustomed to nothing happening in this particular space, that they have stopped looking or even hoping for something better.

Maybe their habits are just so engrained in them that the very thought of doing something in a novel way is somewhat frightening.

The point is that there could be a lot of reasons but that the end result is the same – for the time being:

What I have is good enough.

Overcoming that dreaded barrier is not only a question about making technology work. It is also – and perhaps to some extend more – about packaging it right, getting the message right and getting it out there in front of future customers using the right channels at the right time.

And so much more.

The real important lesson here is that although the opportunity can seem huge, and there seems to be a big void in the market for something new, getting something new going in that void is going to take skill, experience, muscle (aka money) – and some degree of luck.

Don’t ever underestimate that job.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The “red tape” danger

The problem with too much process and red tape is that it creates excuses for not getting problems solved:

“Our processes dictates that I must do this”, “I am not measured on doing that”, “I cannot do anything about it, it’s the rules”, “We have a policy that…”.

Etcetera etcetera.

Of course there needs to be rules and processes, and sometimes they’re even defined by law.

But having said that it is also important to reiterate that just because you can push a set of rules, a boss or even the law in front of you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t show empathy for the person(s) in the other end obviously experiencing a problem.

One of the reasons why startups even stand a fighting chance against much larger and more resourceful organizations is that they don’t have all these rules, processes and KPIs in place.

They’re just trying to do what they think is necessary to enable them to solve issues and move forward. By showing empathy and some sort of efficient pragmatism whenever they encounter a challenge or – most importantly – a customer experiencing a problem and in need of a fix to it.

When companies grow and more people get onboard, the need for processes, policies and rules will grow – sometimes almost exponentially.

That may be fine in itself. But it should never be an excuse for throwing empathy and the ability to act and fix issues out the window.

If you start doing that you will enable precisely all the behaviour internally in your organization that you DON’T really want. And absolutely don’t need to succeed.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The gig economy challenge

I have never been a big believer in and much less a huge fan of the gig economy.

My analysis has been pretty straightforward : A few get rich or richer by taking advantage of the misfortunes of many.

Maybe it’s time to be a bit more nuanced. Because the gig economy is not one thing; it is several. I count at least three variations, and then the question becomes which one of the three should we progress given that there are some flexibility elements in the gig economy that are appealing to many?

Let’s briefly look at the three versions:

In the privileged version you enable people to get the most of their experience and expertise by helping them build upon their personal brands and get it out to more people, who pay for the privilege of special access.

Think Substack and what they enable content providers to do through paid niche newsletters.

In the convenience version you agree to a marriage of convenience a la “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”, where you get something for your troubles, but it’s not the main thing for you.

Think Uber and their drivers, where many of the latter get an extra income whenever they want to top what they do elsewhere, and Uber gets a flock of mechanical turks to make their service work, until we have self-driving cars or some other form of non-human door-to-door transportation.

It works until it doesn’t anymore. And that’s ok. It’s life.

The final version is the exploitation version. This is the unfortunate fundamentally unsustainable business model in a modern society, where clever people with a certain kind of moral compass use the misfortunes of other people to build a business and enrich themselves.

Why is it unsustainable? Because it does nothing to even the playing field. On the contrary it expands the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ in terms of income and prosperity, and looking at it through a historical optic it seldom ends really well for society.

This is where we have services such as meal delivery service Wolt whose business model IMHO is centered around a beautiful UX – or if you prefer; lipstick on a pig – a sizeable fee for participating (typically low margin) restaurants on every transaction and very little ending up with the ‘partners’ (i.e. not ’employees’ with any rights whatsoever) who do the brunt of the actual work.

This last version of the gig economy is what is giving the gig economy a bad name in many quarters. It may sound nice and flexible, but in reality its implications are poisonous over time to a lot of people. And potentially to society at well.

Looking forward we IMHO need to ensure that the development of a sustainable gig economy focuses on providing opportunity and access to the privileged version of it, for those who seek a more flexible lifestyle related to work and living their lives the way they see fit without in effect nesting at the bottom of society.

We can start that by developing services and programs that help these people deliver enduring value that they can actually capture the brunt of themselves.

(Photo: Pixabay)

Why I double down

When difficulties arise, it might very well be good news. Because those difficulties may dissuade all the people who aren’t as dedicated as you are.

Seth Godin, ‘If it were easy…’

Absolutely. It may never be really easy and some times even to tough to stomach. But there really is no other way.