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Life as a startup

Life is a Startup

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I just “pivoted.”

Four weeks ago, I had never heard of a “pivot” as it is used in startup life. Now, I head up business development at FullContact and I get subjected to the word “pivot” on a daily basis.

Suddenly, I am bombarded with quotations from Brad Feld and David Cohen. My colleagues tell me about FullContact’s numerous pivots. After two days on the job, I have realized something else: not only do I work for a startup, but my whole life has been one giant startup.

My pregnant wife is watching me write this right now and I can see the question in her eyes: “You are 33 fricking years old and a soon you will be a father. What do you mean your life is a start-up?” Honey (and readers), let me explain.

What Is a Startup, Anyway?

I find a lot of truth in Steve Blank’s description, “a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model,” and “a business model describes how your company creates, delivers and captures value.”

Isn’t that what we all want in life? To find a repeatable and scalable model to create, deliver, and capture value, regardless of how we define that value?

For a long time I had an idea for my startup. But instead of a business, that startup was me. I believed I could take my ability to influence people, my competitive drive, and my strategic thinking to be successful while making a difference. I just needed to find the right opportunity.

Life As Iteration

The first iteration of the start-up of me was when I transitioned from the Marine Corps to the civilian world as an operations manager for a manufacturer. I successfully turned around an operation that had never operated profitably into one that was as profitable as the other segments in the company.

Great start, right? But I didn’t feel that I was working at my full potential or that I was on the path to do so. My impact was limited to the team. It was not scaleable and I didn’t think it was repeatable. I was in an industry that was incredibly hard hit by the recession and I could only improve efficiency so much. Finally, I wasn’t taking full advantage of my strengths. I could do more.

This led to my first pivot, though I did not put it in those terms at the time. An opportunity arose with the same company to leverage what I had learned about the product and all of my strengths as the Vice President of Commercial Sales.

Again, I saw initial progress towards my goal and believed I was on the right track. But as time went on it became clear that this path was not going to lead me to where I wanted to go either. While it was sustainable, it was not scalable. I reported directly to the CEO, he wasn’t going to go anywhere, and the company was not going to grow anywhere near the rate it had previously.

As fate would have it, that is when FullContact came into the picture.

So I pivoted.

I took lessons learned, strengths gained, and failures experienced to go after an opportunity that presented itself and was aligned with all of those elements.
Just like a smart start-up.

It is a lesson I think everyone can apply to his or her life. Do not hesitate to pivot. Keep your desired end state in mind and when you hit surfaces find the gaps (we’ll talk about that later), even if it means you have to make a major course correction. Make sure you are sustainable, scalable, and creating value. Your life is a start-up and as I hear the new boss say all the time, “Do More Faster.”

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