A startup debate that has been weighing on me recently is building a solution for today vs. an idea for tomorrow. David Cummings recently wrote a post touching on this – “Funding Today’s Business or Tomorrow’s Idea”. We could be talking evolutionary vs. revolutionary. This could involve a high-degree of market education and long sales cycles.
I remember early on with Body Boss this very issue. My co-founder Darren Pottinger really started the company off an idea to bring heuristics and predictive modeling to exercise. The idea employed regression forecasting to recommend the weight an exerciser should do next.
Body Boss was originally intended for the Consumer market. However, we pivoted towards the B2B crowd of professional strength coaches – institutional teams and training programs. Where coaches thought the algorithms and forecasting were interesting, they wanted full control of what athletes should be doing. For example, they wanted the ability to prescribe the percentage of an athlete’s one-repetition maximum weight. Body Boss would just calculate the weight to be done from the percentage and the one-rep max via a “test assessment”.
As a startup with no real expertise in professional strength and conditioning or other exercise research, we did not have the credibility to recommend our algorithm vs. the coaches’ traditional methods. Though there was real potential in our algorithm – the Idea of Tomorrow – coaches wouldn’t buy Body Boss without the ability to build percentage-based workouts – the Business of Today. The opportunity of Body Boss, then, was the ability to collect and organize workouts and their results.
We saw prospects who were hesitant to buy early on convert to paid-customers once we implemented the percentage schemes.
Entrepreneurs will likely have their visions of grandeur for tomorrow. However, tomorrow may never come. Instead, build a base off of today’s business. Then, run research behind the scenes to validate the ideas of tomorrow. This isn’t much different from traditional research and development teams in large corporations today. But they all start from a position of a stable base.
Build the bridge to tomorrow on today. When you have the credibility and resources, you can influence tomorrow.
What are you good at?
If you listed 5 or more “talents” or “skills”, try again. What are you really good at? If you listed 3, try again. If someone was to remember you for this, what would that be? Did you say one thing, yet?
Think about someone you know. What’s s/he good at? Who else could you say is also good at that?
Now, what are you really good at? What distinguishes you from someone else who is good in something similar? What differentiates you from the 100’s, 1000’s of others who could be similar?
Can you tell anyone in the world what you’re good at simply and curtly? If you spend more than 15 seconds, try again.
This isn’t just practice. This is your brand. This is your strategy. Think about this for your business. Why should anyone care about you? Why should anyone buy from you? What will you do for the buyer?
Let’s try again: what are you good at?
A friend recently asked me about starting a business/ building a product as a side hustle to a full-time gig vs. consulting as the gig to reveal a business opportunity. Given his personal life, building a business as a full-time gig could be extremely risky without strong revenue upfront. The potential flexibility of consulting, however, could income, flexibility, and market insight.
I’ve had experience doing both with Body Boss and 5 Points Digital (5PD), a consulting company – as a side hustle to a full-time gig and with consulting to find the next big move.
Thoughts on pursuing consulting as the means to an end:
·      Consulting is a great way to learn of problems, design solutions, network, and test market interest. Companies (startups, big corporates, etc.) serve markets with solutions at scale. Consulting is akin to a one-off solution for a singular client. Products are then extensions of solution for greater scale.
·      Practice asking questions to understand situations and uncover problems. Much like entrepreneurs would do well to perform customer discovery, consultants use probing questions to learn of problems, bottlenecks, information silos, etc.
·      Practice disseminating information – telling stories and detailing processes. Effective consultants can communicate effectively. Many can tell a story interweaving cause and effect. They can lead audiences through flows. Practicing case studies can help reinforce information dissemination and asking questions (previous tenet).
·      Remember what you’re looking to do. Consulting can be comfortable like any other job. I suggested to my friend to take a step back periodically to synthesize lessons and their opportunities. When I started 5PD, things were easy. However, I did not find the inspiration for a new product-oriented startup. I got comfortable and locked into the tactical projects. I had to stop consulting. Pick when to leap into and out of consulting according to your grander purpose.
Consulting can be fun. It can be financially rewarding and offer flexibility. It’s also a great way to leverage experience and expand into other areas to lean into and build a marketable solution.
Start practicing and expertise will come. 
I met with a young college student recently to talk about how best to utilize the summer – specifically, internships. 2018 marks 13 years since I started the co-op program at Georgia Tech. Since then, I have been fortunate to pivot my career to what I do (and love) now including working with young interns.
My tips:
  • Early years (college, pre-college, early 20s, etc.) should be geared towards learning. Most students do not have much real-world working experience. Yet, our lives beyond college means we must work to constantly put food on the table. Prioritizing learning early on enables students to identify what one enjoys early on, as well as what one does not enjoy.
  • Be courageous – it’s okay to fail. It’s advantageous to build a foundation of putting one’s self out there (e.g. reaching out to idols, learning to code, etc.). Being courageous even “a little bit” can create a habit for the future.
  • Seek answers where you have the most questions. In the case of the student, she was considering two different paths – one in healthcare, one in development. It can be difficult to choose a path for the summer when both offer unlimited opportunities/ benefits. I advised her to opt for the path she has the greatest questions about. Again, it’s okay to fail and pivot, especially early on in life where there is less risk.
  • Start developing your WHY and your PURPOSE. I’m a fan of Simon Sinek’s message to understand what drives people. This will be nebulous for most young folks, but it’s a great place to start building self-awareness.

Everything can seem new and confusing early on for this young student. It’s all a process. Take a deep breath. Now is the time to cultivate never-ending curiosity.

Happy new year! As is customary for so many, the new year calls for reflections and resolutions. Naturally, this means reviewing 2017 in the year of this blog.
Top posts from 2017:
Post from previous years that were still popular in 2017:
2017 was a productive one for me with 104 posts published. I’m going to start out 2018 publishing once weekly. There’s been a lot of changes at work, and I think there are good entrepreneurial posts upcoming. However, I want to focus creative resources for this first part of the year.
Stay tuned for great things ahead!