Small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurial projects are launched on a vision. Depending on your religious preferences, that vision might come from God, or from so deep inside your own soul that it makes little difference.
In case you missed the Amy’s Baking Company debacle that started on Kitchen Nightmare’s and spread across the Internet, here are a couple ways to catch up. Here’s the original episode. This article provides a pretty good overview, as does this one. Wikipedia has a page on it here.
Most articles and commentators seem to take the view that Amy and Samy are completely psychotic, and the reason they are so popular is that we all like watching a trainwreck. Another explanation for the resonance this episode created online was the tip issue, and the outrage over the treatment of the servers.
All of that is true, but I don’t think it explains why this debacle hit home. What’s telling is the heavy involvement of communities like Reddit, places that are overlap significantly with the start-up/entrepreneurial community. I think we are fascinated because many of the lessons are specific to our world.
Amy had a vision, she felt it was from God. Others doubted her vision, but she had one person who celebrated it, supported it, and defended it against the critics. Between them, the created this solipsistic world in which God’s vision for baked goods manifested, while on the outside haters, bloggers, and bad Yelp reviewers circled the impenetrable wall, spraying it with graffiti.
But either God lost control, or the Amy/Samy continuum forgot an important ingredient.
I talked to some start-up people who have experienced success about their visions.
Sean Perkins of Mobility Labs explained that he started his business because he wanted to help small business find a roadmap through the tangle of technology possibilities. He envisioned mobile platforms as the most important emerging field, and it was also one that he found fascinating.
Ben Cohen, of TheDailyBanter, was eating a bowl of cornflakes when he thought being the next American media mogul sounded sweet. Why not him, he thought. His vision was to build a network of like-minded sites.
Jason Connell, of Ignited Leadership had a vision that he could really help people by training them to lead.
All three have found their way to success, but each had to pivot along the way. Pivoting is the act of realizing your vision and reality don’t match up, but instead of giving up, you change your vision. It requires a measure of humility.
Sean reports that: “Mobile technology fascinated me, but clients wanted me to do web development. I could keep selling something that people weren’t necessarily buying, or transition to something, I didn’t know as much about, but that was definitely a need. The new field still met my main criteria, I was helping small businesses make sense of technology.”
Ben found that, instead of creating a loose network of like-minded websites, he needed to control the brand and platform himself. But this still led him to the core of his vision, “It’s all about conversation, interactivity, opening up platforms to regular people.”
Jason explained that the reality was 100% different than his vision. He had to fight for every client, and it took him a lot longer than he expected.
Humility allows us to understand that reality is different than our vision, no matter how divinely inspired the vision may be. But entrepreneurs are sometimes afraid of humility because we need spend so much time finding confidence.
We are often told about Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs, it is said, had the confidence to stick to his vision without reference to what people said they wanted. His great innovations were devices that we didn’t know we wanted, until he showed us. He is an example of confidence in a vision without much feedback.
But Steve Jobs did know how to pivot. In fact, he was famous for it. This Fast Company article covers it pretty well. The essence is that Steve Jobs, after being forced out of Apple, started his own company NeXt, which completely failed. But Jobs figured out how to find something of value in the ruins, and changed his emphasis.