Lindsay’s In Business: PART 56. Is history repeating itself? 

think outside of the box

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What happens when you realise your path is entrepreneurship rather than employment? Lindsay takes up the challenge and shares an account of her journey as it unfolds… 

Here’s how I see the journey has gone so far:

I launched a business selling a new approachto team communications / team effectiveness. The market is awash with stuff like this, but the process I have is, dare I say, revolutionary. It took a while to find a way to articulate and present the concept, and reactions in general have been positive. Within 14 months of trading, I got 3 great case studies and the process was all up and running.

In the 6 months since then, I have developed a bigger network and the pipeline has been getting stronger, but it has been difficult to sell, with little commitment. It seems the offering is less-likely to be used as a random, single team input, but is more sensical as part of an organization-wide strategic program. This makes the challenge much bigger because we lack the profile, awareness and network to sell at that level.

To address this, we are bringing in consultancies who do sell at that level and there are 2 or 3 onside doing that. We are also building a mechanism to funnel sales leads our way. This is a free, automated online tool called ‘Take the Team Test’.  It is a sample of the Mirror Mirror process and will give us profile, leads and benchmark data.  I’m borrowing money to cover the costs. It’s potentially a big, expensive activity (although I did find someone amazing on www.upwork.comto build the tool with SurveyGizmo and Google Sheets….)

… but now I’m getting this familiar feeling.

Last time I pioneered a big ‘new idea’ was in 1992. I had just graduated and had long harboured an idea to get lift-sharing up and running in the UK.  Matching passengers with drivers travelling city to city was apparently very successful in Germany.  What an amazing idea, I thought.

I threw myself into it and over time, attracted national publicity, 17,000 members, blue-chip sponsorship, and eventually, a team of 7 volunteer staff.  The company was called Freewheelers, it was housed in subsidised offices in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and all run on a super-tiny-thin shoe string. I loved it.

The internet – unbelievably – was not yet mainstream. We were just proud of the new fax machine we had bought for the office.  We had Windows 4 – or 5? with umpteen file conversion issues, an overnight backup process that chugged on for hours, and lots of paper coloured cards logging offers and requests for lifts. To be truthful, there weren’t that many offers and requests.  It was fake it ‘til you make it – bigtime.

Four years after launching, the business ground to a slow collapse when I simply ran out of money. I’d exhausted a few private investors, EU and local level grand-aid, and sponsorship money. There was one last ditch attempt to focus on our most popular route – Manchester to London – and get at least that working to above a 50% match rate (stalls, publicity, posters in student unions, flyers…) but we never did manage to reach the critical mass needed to grow the business.

When I look back, I reflect on why Freewheelers didn’t take off. Of course, today, car-sharing via firms like Uber is massive. Internet booking, GPS tracking, and the ‘taxi-like’ contract between driver and passenger is a very different proposition than the organized hitch-hiking offer that we at Freewheelers had put out there for students.

And I remember a key concern about the Freewheelers offer that was raised repeatedly: “People don’t want to get into cars with strangers, do they?” The 23-year-old, over-confident me had a quick and rational response to that. “We have the details of who is travelling with whom, so this deters any wrongdoing”, I’d say. “And if that’s not ok for some people then they’re not in our market.”

This concern wasn’t a process or logistical concern however, it was a socialconcern. Social concerns are less tangible, they’re about emotions and are the most powerful determinant of whether a person buys or rejects an offer.  I didn’t know that – or want to discover it either, apparently. In my blind enthusiasm for the idea itself, I brushed that key concern aside.

Was that the reason why Freewheelers didn’t work?  Maybe. We didn’t have the technology available to choose the Uber-style approach – and we wouldn’t have had the capital either. But there was a big lesson – don’t brush key concerns aside.  They give you opportunities to morph your approach into one that could make it or save you lots of time and money.

25 years later, I’m back in the saddle, with a nagging, familiar feeling.

What key concerns – that could make or break the Mirror Mirror proposition – am I brushing to one side, just like I did before?

Let’s think about that:

  • For starters, “Take the Team Test might not work because half the team need to take part at a minimum, rather than just one person”. Response = trial the test with 20 teams to find out if that’s a show stopper before you invest in a big campaign.
  • “Mirror Mirror requires a very rare breed of manager who is truly open to what his/her people are thinking and feeling.” Response = maybe but it’s still a very big market. Keep the radar open to this one.  Point out the anonymity / confidentiality / objectivity features of the process in marketing materials.

And finally, two of my own private concerns:

  • “Do I find reasons not to see a lack of demand and just concentrate on keeping things moving?” Response = Bullshit. This is entrepreneurialism. If you believe in your business (and now you have a lot of experience to back up your ideas), then go for it and keep adapting until it works. Things take time.
  • “People say that we get what we’re looking for. Am I looking for a struggle?  Am I trying too hard – as I usually do – and undermining the business as a result?”  Response = yes you could lighten up a little, which would help with sales. Don’t be so intent at forcing your goals through.  Listen to what’s going on around you, pick up the signals in the Universe, let it come to you.

On that last point, ‘trying too hard’ for me is unconscious and habitual.  I did it with Freewheelers. I’ve always done it.  It’s easy to say ‘lighten up’ but how do you make that happen?

Last week, I met a graduate who has founded a start-up nearby. There was no pressure – I knew he wasn’t going to buy anything. I just wanted him to Take the Team Test and see where it went. I relaxed and listened. It was helpful that he is passionate about what he does and was keen to open up, but generally we had a great chat – and yes of course he’ll do the Team Test and tell all of the other Start-Ups in the building about it if he likes it. Maybe that’s what ‘lightening up’ looks like. Genuinely no agenda. Discover. Relax. Let it happen. 

Mirror Mirroris a data-driven alignment process that accelerates effectiveness, team by team. It is the quickest and most cost-efficient way to leverage the collective ability of your people.

Your story, our platform: If you’ve got a story and would like to share it with other Femflectors, please let us know. Femflection is all about transferring learnings to help others, be they big or subtle. We want to connect with your feelings, your learnings, your reflections or your hopes for the future – in blog or interview format. Express yourself here. Get in touch with us via anja.uitdehaag@femflection.com

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