Mar 1, 2012

Getting to the Other Side: The Perfect Storm of Business

by Claire Burge

I remember my first year in business. It was a perfect storm in the making: electrifyingly interesting, beautiful even, and equally terrifying. I had no clue what I was doing, and I felt overwhelmed most of the time, never getting through all that had to be done. The ‘to do’ list grew and grew and alongside it, my inability to manage it adequately.

I was in the process of completing my MPhil Entrepreneurship thesis, which I would be presenting at The Babson Entrepreneurship Conference in Boston. I was suspended between two worlds, the academic entrepreneurship holding no correlation whatsoever to the real thing I was engaged in every day. Think ice cream and boiling milk: complete opposites.

Geoffrey A. Moore summarizes this state of flux perfectly in his book Crossing the Chasm. He breaks the technology business cycle into five stages of adoption by users consisting of:

  • Innovators: The tech community who are always willing to try new concepts.
  • Early adopters: The people who are willing to try the ready-for-launch product that is just beyond early stage testing.
  • Early majority: The community who pick up the technology because of the positive feedback from the early adopters.
  • Late majority: The rest of the community who decide it is time to join the party.
  • Laggards: The group of people who observe quietly from the sidelines for a long time.

These cycles represent fairly accurately the phases I went through as a start up tech entrepreneur:

  • Month 1 - 12: High innovation, brainstorming, rapid change, numerous pivots in my thinking and thus the business direction.
  • Month 12 - 18: The idea settled in, I found a way to sell my vision to a select group of people.
  • Month 18 – 21: I got really scary feedback which I didn’t expect at all, the business was severely cash strapped, and I was feeling unable to resource the needed changes.
  • Month 21 – 24: Highly stressful period in which I was bootstrapping and launching simultaneously, the to-do list grew exponentially.
  • Month 24 – 36: The business settled into a semi-pattern of day-to-day functioning, I started employing people, and I had to reinvent  the vision as new entrants attempted to do what I was doing in more creative ways.

This theory of ‘crossing the chasm’ between early adoption and mass adoption in order to scale a business is like manning a production chain: every step that happens in the process is key to the success of the next phase. The business was doing one thing, and I as the entrepreneur had to be thinking within that phase while simultaneously managing the previous phase and planning ahead for the next one.

This meant, of course, that the to-do list was always growing while some activities settled in to become status quo: long hours, short lunch breaks, no fixed working time, the struggle of work/life balance, and the reality that this is a chasm after all.

But in this tempest, I stumbled over the truth from science once again—that entrepreneurship can be taught, teaching me even the things I didn’t know I needed to learn.

Further Resources about Crossing the Chasm

The Chasm Group

Rethinking Crossing the Chasm

 

This article is part of an ongoing series on business lessons learned in the day to day setting of a small business tech environment. Other articles in this series are linked below.

Image by Fiduz.Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Claire Burge.

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