Change is the only constant
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I often wonder how many “pivots” the average startup does over the lifecycle of its business. There are those rare occasions where a company will be started on a premise and continue its build then exit. I have never been a part of one of those. All of the entities I have been a part of had a basic idea of a business, started then pivoted. Billaway is a business that has pivoted the most from its original concept to where it found success of any of I have been involved in.
What is it about pivoting that makes some investors nervous? Is it that sometimes they get a little concerned that the team is building a solution looking for a problem or do they know what I have learned, the hard way, that more often than not the idea of what you want to build to address a problem is not exactly the right solution.
Billaway started as a nonprofit looking to help consumers save money on their home heating oil bills when home heating oil was over $4 per gallon. We struck lightening by using incentives to reduce a bill that otherwise could not be reduced so we turned it into a business. What we did not realize is that there were structural issues in the business that prevented it from ever scaling. It was at this point where faith started to play a role in pivoting. I had faith that consumers would see a value in doing things to reduce a bill that otherwise could not be reduced. I knew it would work, I just did not understand yet in which vertical. We tried them all; petrol, waste, electricity and finally mobile. Each one worked to a degree, however it could not scale. Image thinking “I need back to school clothes for my kids so I will go to my garbage company website to buy them and save money on garbage collection”. Never happen, right? Of course not, but it was a good idea. Problem was execution.
When we hit on mobile, that is where it all started to click; reduce a mobile bill through activities. When we started to work in emerging markets, we realized that we could not ask a consumer to spend money they did not have to save money on a bill they already could not afford, so we created a survey platform on mobile. We were the first to do that and it exploded.
If you read the above few paragraphs, we had about five “pivots” over all this activity. Five times, we turned the business in a new direction using the learnings from the previous one. This could only have occurred because we had incredible investors (still do) who understood that we were on to something, we just did not understand how to maximize it yet.
Our investors, employees and friends of the company all had faith in us as a business to take another leap and drive an executable business to new heights. They had the faith in all of us to do what needed to be done.
Faith in people is hard to come by. Faith in executives is a bit easier as you look at the data which drives them to make their decisions. Data rarely lies and faith in data driven by smart people is not that hard to come by, however faith in a “gut” decision is much harder to find. I have been blessed with people who more times than not have said “Paul, I am betting on you and I have the faith in you that you will make this work.” Why is it that some people have faith in you and others do not? It is a selective that I use to allow investors in our company. It is also a selective I use to allow people into my life.
I recently encountered both sides of this coin. I had someone who, even though they knew me for a while, had seen me do so many things to help them, so many things to further their own life, so many things to build a business and so many things to make others better, they had no faith in me at all. It was jarring to experience, but a good lesson. On the flip side, I had someone who barely knew me and sat with me for about twenty minutes. Someone who has met some of the greatest people of our generation and she turned to me and said, “I have heard and seen enough, I have faith in you and will support whatever it is you want.”
Investors, employees and executives have to have faith in the fact that things change all the time. If they do not have faith in you, remove them from your life, no matter how much you think you need or want them there. You may need to defend your direction, use data to justify a change or use experience of doing the right things to make your case, but make it.
We have had so much change here at Billaway that it is refreshing to finally be at the end of a great period of change where we are now starting to scale and execute on what has become our final “idea”.
Change is constant. My recommendation is to “pivot” in business or in life when you look at the data (looking at the actions of people is the same as data) and make a calculated change. Be able to defend (justify) it and move on. The people who have faith in you will stay with you. Those that don’t are not needed in your business or your life.
Have faith in yourself, be able to defend any and all pivots and learn from the past. The past will educate you a great deal on what to do, who to do it with and how to do it.
Change is constant; make it better each time.