Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.

A startup company is very much akin to an experiment. Despite beginning with an hypothesis that your product or service will fill a need of your target audience, you aren’t completely sure whether that’s a sufficient foundation on which to build a profitable business. One possible path forward is to proceed “full-steam ahead” while ignoring feedback and metrics because you’re so confident of your product/service or, conversely, you might opt for flexibility in order to facilitate any necessary pivoting. The latter philosophy is far more likely to increase your odds of success. These tips will help guide you toward flexibility as you continue to test your hypothesis:

Remain Open to Change

While your business plan or investor slide deck may (should!) have looked great on initial presentation, it cannot constitute an unalterable relic. You are not running a business in a static environment. In order to keep pace with market shifts, you must be willing to change course when necessary. Whether a given course change consists of slowing or speeding your company’s rate of growth or of selecting a different way in which to introduce your product, you must be willing to accept that change is the only rule of life and that the better you can adapt to that reality, the more likely your company will remain afloat. Pivots rule the startup world for the simple reason that first ideas aren’t always (or often) best ideas.

Listen to Feedback

While it’s great to have a customer service line and a range of social media accounts, applying the information gleaned from those resources to facilitate a keener understanding of your target audience’s needs and desires is even better. An open line to one’s market is only valuable when the lessons gleaned are being taken onboard, fully correlated, and applied to positive changes. No business, product, or service will be universally adored, but similar negative feedback received from multiple sources frequently indicates a genuine issue and one that you must address. Your willingness to listen and respond can help you to identify and address potential problems before they sink your business.

Reevaluate Goals

Always remember that projections and forecasts represent a snapshot view of conditions and are only completely valid on the day they’re made. Once additional information has been received, it’s vital to both reevaluate existing goals and to craft new ones which intelligently reflect the amended data. Be sure to make this process a regular practice in order to avoid missing a piece of essential information and failing to respond appropriately. If a new competitor appears on the horizon, don’t neglect to investigate the ways in which it’s likely to affect your business.

Question Your Premises

What assumptions are you making as you run your business? Are any of those premises truly unquestionable? If you find yourself believing that they are, it’s time to start questioning them – and continue questioning them – if you want to avoid stalled progress.

Polaroid was once at the forefront of camera and film technology due primarily to the huge success of their proprietary instant film and earning most of its income as a result of the intellectual property rights it held on that film. New Polaroid cameras were an infrequent customer purchase, while everyone who owned a Polaroid camera needed to continually repurchase film in order to use it. When digital cameras came to the fore, the company chose not to develop and market their own digital camera. They shortsightedly believed that they were chiefly a film company (since that was how they had always operated) and that people would continue to buy their film. That course of inaction cost them dearly. As a consequence of failing to question their premise – that customers would continue to buy Polaroid film because they desired a hard copy of every image – they withheld the release of their digital camera until it was far too late to remain competitive.

While a particular premise may carry you so far, don’t neglect to regularly challenge it. No concept can remain unquestioned if you intend to remain competitive over the long term.

Permit Challenges

Your team should feel as though their relationship with you is sufficiently positive as to permit disagreement. If they’re not comfortable questioning your decisions in a constructive fashion, they may fail to raise important points in time to prevent your company from making disastrous missteps. No concept – and no person – should be beyond challenging. That said, please don’t misconstrue this advice as in any way advocating an environment where every decision is questioned, as that way lies anarchy. That said, an effective leader solicits others’ views and takes those perspectives into account prior to making and communicating a decision on the chosen way forward.

How to Remain Flexible: The Three “A”s

In order to make it easier to remain flexible, I’ve distilled the previous points into three sentences. Memorize them, print them out – do anything necessary to preserve our company’s flexibility.

Anticipate
If your finger remains on the pulse of your market, you’ll be better able to Anticipate the moves necessary to remain successful.

Adjust
Adjust your plans to suit the market and never assume that the market will come around to your way of thinking.

Attack
Whenever and wherever new opportunities present themselves, plan to Attack them with vigor!

Anticipate the ways in which market changes and feedback will affect your company, adjust your plans as necessary, and then attack!

Remaining flexible is an ongoing process and it must be made an integral component of your company culture. By ensuring that you and your employees are listening to feedback, paying attention to changes in the market, and willing to challenge your premises, you’ll be much better prepared to pivot as/when necessary.

About the Author

Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).

Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.

Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.