When it comes to starting a new venture -- success follows a singular focus on the needs of today. It does not follow the concerns about the unpredictably predictable shit storm of tomorrow. Finding focus in the midst of deep uncertainty is akin to plowing a boat through several feet of ice that’s gathered on top of the water - it's really hard.
Anytime you’re starting something new, think of yourself as an icebreaker seeking to maintain momentum regardless of what’s happening around you. Decisions must be made while constantly surveying weather conditions, ice thickness, and the status of your vessel. There's no option to navigate to open water or have time to process and think before you make a decision.
In creating Grand Circus, I had to determine how to allocate resources across three totally different customer segments: corporations, schools, and public classes. At any given time, the hardest thing to do was NOT think about two of the segments – and only work on the segment where the amount of effort required to get to the next meaningful step in the process was lowest. There were countless times where I felt a strong force trying to suck me back into a segment where I’d made the strategic decision to not focus my time. And as much as I like strategic thinking - success often appeared when I spent my time with customers in areas where I knew exactly what was needed to move to the next stage of the process.
In 1889, everyone’s favorite Swede, Svante Arrhenius, shared that activation energy is “the minimum energy which must be available to a chemical system with potential reactants to result in a chemical reaction.”
In other words, activation energy is the minimum spark that’s required to start a flame.
Small increments of success come from defining an achievable next step in the journey and mustering the strength to achieve your goal. So when you're ready to act big -- think small.
And herein lies the secret to success for any business: Keep the activation energy low throughout the journey – and you’ll create a habit of taking one step forward.
Activating Your B2B Market
Bad news. As tough as it is to get a user to try out a new product, it’s 100x harder to get an established corporation to take the plunge and join as a customer. And with good reason.
Start-ups have three things going against them:
Overcoming these hurdles requires one hell of a leap, but it’s manageable if you focus on the right things. Here’s what I’ve found:
Go local. Go early. Go with humility.
And by all means: Go.
What to do if your company doesn’t yet have a track-record? Go create one. After all, you are your company.
I love going local. The people are real, the conversations are meaningful, and the amount of bullshit is limited. Going local means seeking out customers who are located close enough to meet with face-to-face on a regular basis. Meeting face-to-face gives you a huge advantage when it comes to proving your credibility. Even if you don’t have a contact at a local target corporation, there’s a high likelihood you’re only one degree of separation from making that happen. Your business hasn’t yet earned the credibility to get the meeting, but you can still knock down the credibility barrier as an individual through a common contact. Go local and make it happen.
Odds are you haven’t yet heard of innovation fatigue, but make no mistake about it – it’s real. Corporate leaders are called and emailed on a daily basis with “innovative” ideas from start-ups that are sure to use words like: disruption, game-changer, high-impact, and transformational. That shit gets old quickly. The reality is that corporations have become skeptical of new ventures and all the buzzwords. Too often start-ups try to stand out by being different than corporations…only to sound the same as many other new ventures.
Be excited. Be passionate. But avoid the parade of buzzwords and admit what you don’t know. A little humility goes a long way.
Success comes from lowering the activation energy required to get buy-in from the corporation you’re pursuing. Change the first conversation from selling a product to gathering feedback and identifying what it takes for your potential customer to own the idea themselves. Nobody likes to be sold to, but everyone loves coming up with a brilliant idea. So bring your prospective client onboard with you and let them help create something with you rather than trying to sell your idea.
And perhaps most importantly, create a clear path forward that requires minimal activation energy to move forward. Part of having low activation energy is having a clear ask and clear path forward. Lay out the path and find a way to make it as easy as humanly possible for your prospective client to say 'yes'.
Focus on Today’s Activation Energy
As I’m working to get my new venture, promoteLiving, off the ground, I have countless worries: funding, team, strategic partners, and developing a viable growth strategy. But success comes from ignoring most of those concerns and instead focusing on getting my first client signed up and feeling (mostly) comfortable about our ability to deliver on promises. There are plenty of things to worry about, but nothing matters without getting the reaction activated, or in my case – getting that first client signed up.
And once the chemical reaction has started, there’s progress to share. There’s a flame burning in the form of a product that a first client can touch, feel, and connect with. There’s momentum and perhaps most importantly – there’s a pattern of setting and achieving goals.
Successful leaders ignore the noise and cleanly focus on creating the energy required to trigger the chemical reaction. They don’t focus on the energy that’s required to get the reaction to the point where it burns hot and efficient. That’s tomorrow’s problem.
Getting Those New Users Across The Line
New users are lazy. They don’t like to share information, they don’t like to spend time setting up a new account -- they just want their problem solved so they can get back to going about their day.
Identify the absolute minimum information you need to collect and in order to move forward with the sign-up. Perhaps it’s an email address, or a phone number, or just connecting a Facebook account. Whatever you design, be sure to think like a user dying to return to reading another Donald Trump article.
At promoteLiving, we need bank account information to deliver rewards dollars into the accounts of our users. But this doesn't mean we need to collect bank account information at sign-up. Instead, we simply collect email and username information. Bank account information can wait.
Once the user has gone shopping, accrued rewards, and been notified that there are dollars sitting and waiting to go into their account, the activation energy required to share a bank account has decreased significantly. If we were to ask for bank account information at sign-up, activation energy would be too high to convince most consumers to share this information. By asking for bank information after the user has accrued dollars, we’ve effectively reduced activation energy to a level that’s low enough to be cleared by our key audience: the user. We avoid asking for marriage on the first date and by doing so, we're onto the second date....and still possibly on the path to marriage.
McDonald’s didn’t worry about creating a scalable chain of restaurants or optimizing credit card processing on Day 1. They worried about creating a product worthy of creating a positive customer experience for customers who visited their store. Focus on the activation energy that’s needed for the here and now.
Low activation energy drives clarity and progress. Ongoing positive progress creates something meaningful.