It’s always easy to be wise after the fact and easier still to be cynical. This is evidenced by the recent demise of challenger energy company Bulb. Commentators have gone from observing that management may have been naive in underestimating the risks inherent in the wholesale pricing system to pillorying the startup’s overzealous drive, intense internal culture and corporate language. non-corporate business.
In a Times piece April 23you could almost see the smile of cynicism as it was revealed that employees were known as ‘Bulberinos’, bosses were talking about ‘shaking up an outdated industry’ and offices were covered wall to wall in factories expensive to symbolize the brand. green promise.
Is this bigoted optimism, so characteristic of startups, the reason it collapsed? If so, the Times was not prescient enough to warn us in advance. The reasons for failure here, as almost always, can be summed up in one word: multifactorial. Optimism may simply have blinded managers to external risks, but if the company hadn’t been unlucky and had maintained its meteoric growth, we would now have considered them visionaries.
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Perhaps the realists – those who are only too aware of the potential downsides, of everything, always – would have avoided Bulb’s terminal errors. But they wouldn’t have started the business in the first place. A startup’s main customers are not consumers or other buyers, but investors. And whether big or small, they must be stunned not only by the prospect of the concept before them, but also by the background and passion of those who are proposing it.
Yeah, it’s silly to talk about ‘burning a hole in the universe’, but who’s going to invest in a team that mutters, ‘Well, we think there might be something in there… There there are a lot of problems, and it is by this does not clearly mean that all of them are solvable, but we will try.
If you had two teams in front of you and one talked a lot about “moonshots” and the other sincerely swore to “do our best”, who would get your funds?
Moonshots and traders
As a marketer, most likely working in a solid and secure company, none of this should bother you. Or maybe on second thought, it should be. Because, as you may have noticed, CEOs are increasingly calling on their marketing teams to “be entrepreneurial” and “think like a startup.”
They have to be careful what they wish for. Are they ready to accept internally the 90% failure of current startups? Are they comfortable with the ruthless consumption of cash and the need for constant funding cycles with no payback date in sight? Or are these injunctions just exaggerated pleas for their marketers not to be so stubborn?
A “spotter” sees the opportunity but is not blinded by it.
In my experience, few marketers take the call seriously. But some do. And when they do, it’s unfortunately not the shiny things of the startup mentality that they copy: the ingenuity, the flexibility, the iconoclasm, or the creative courage to pivot and start again when the despair of running out of money comes into play.
What they tend to copy instead is boastful optimism and the language that goes with it. It may not go so far as to punch galactic holes, but will at the very least embrace “breaking category standards”. These ambitions, often sketchy, will be backed by nothing more substantial than statements of passionate belief.
Internal optimists don’t want realists around them. Up to a point, that’s understandable. Self-proclaimed realists are able to suck all the energy out of the room with their grim “we tried that once, we know it didn’t work” prognosis or their sly “devil’s advocate” negativity.
Hit the sweet spot
I suggest that there is room for a different breed in the truly entrepreneurial corporate culture – a culture that could also be useful in Bulb-type startups. He is the person who accomplishes the most difficult of human challenges: to step away from either extreme and straddle the ground somewhere in the middle without turning into a walking compromise. People who, between optimists and aberrant realists, manage to find the happy medium.
I will call them “spotists”. And here’s what makes them valuable.
A spotter sees the opportunity but is not blinded by it. Likewise, they see some of the difficulties – and actively seek out others – without minimizing them or being immediately overcome by them. They are actors, with a practical sense of the need for resolution.
Spotters think growth is great, but be aware that profit, at least within a business, must also be considered. They won’t expect endless rounds of shareholder munificence, and at the very least will make a credible plan for future profitability.
A spotter will sometimes be persuaded by an inner belief – or hunch – that a concept will work, but knows not to offer it to colleagues as the only reason to invest in resources. They are able to back-analyze their instincts and understand why they are leading them in the direction they are taking. They are also aware that they may not always be right.
A spotter knows how to sell an idea – he’s got the vocabulary and the passion – but he also knows it’s wise to put the best work into the less sexy part of any proposition.
If you’re an entrepreneurial-minded marketer, it’s good to have spotists. But they are a rare breed. If you spot one inside the company tent, get to know it, grab a coffee. Start something.
And when you succeed, if you do, it will be a moment to pierce the cynicism of commentators who never had the courage to start anything big, brave and daring in their lives.