OMG this coffee shop is freezing. Not sure how much I’ll get through. Sure my hair is a bit wet still since my shower this am and that’s probably not helping. (My hair has this unique quality of staying wet for hours on end, practically all day really… thank you Mediterranean heritage.) But wowza! Brrr.
Anywho i have so much to share, so little time! Where do I begin…
Last Monday, we had our usual team meeting and then on-on-ones. After the team meeting, I can’t remember what prompted the thought but I told R that I think we need to do a serious strategy meeting. Not a regular strategy meeting where we set goals for next few months/weeks and make sure we have the best execution plan. No, this needed to be a much higher level strategy plan like WTF is going on? How are we really doing? I think I got the thought in the shower that morning, it hit me like a rock. Like whoooa, wait a minute, we’re moving along but we are faaaar from thriving. Something really big needs to change. Thankfully, R was very responsive. Sometimes, she can try to tame me down, telling me to stay focused, that we know what we need to do and to keep working on our goals. (I have a tendency to constantly be questioning what we’re doing so I do sometimes need to be reminded that we decided to do xyz already and to stick to it). But in this case, that was not here response. She said right away: “You’re right, when can you catch up? How about this afternoon?” That made me realize that shit, she’s so on the same page which means this so needs to happen, probably needed to happen a while ago.
We started talking briefly that afternoon, mostly mapping out how we would tackle this conversation in a way that did NOT result in much of the same. Let’s face it, strategy meetings can feel like history repeating itself… same issues, same solutions, same lack of real change, same ideas being thrown around, same lack of real progress. SO the first thing we decided to break the cycle was that we needed to be out of the office, somewhere new, somewhere different, and maybe even somewhere inspiring. We considered the local university. We used to do some of our best strategic thinking there when we first launched the company, before we had a team, before we had our own office. The next morning, we opted to meet at a new coworking space instead (the university felt far and too quiet over the summer).
Within one hour, basically at record time, we decided “Holy shit, we need to stop our subscription channel.” This is our bread and butter, the very foundation upon which our company/our brand has been built. 95% of our revenue comes from subscriptions right now. So this decision was no joke, and may ultimately prove to be the end of this project. I know that statement is supposed to be scary, but it’s not! We had finally gotten to a point where we realized that it doesn’t matter why this part of our business is not growing rapidly enough, why it has “failed”, what the implications of this decision would mean, etc. None of this matters. The only thing that matters is that “It’s simply not working, and we need to face reality.” We had tried endless ways to grow it and it just wan’t prospering enough. We were in many way dying a slow death. Had we tried everything? Maybe not. Could someone else come in and grow the heck out of it? Sure, that’s possible! But who cares!! The truth is we don’t know what else to try and we don’t know the person who would come in to rescue it. Could we continue to search for those? Sure, and you might find them on your death bed. So this was the reality we had to face. Something had to change and NOW. Enough was enough.
We had previously had this conversation. “The subscription is not growing enough, what should we do about this?” And every time, the answer was basically the same. We would come up with some epiphany, a reason why it wasn’t working, and we would get to work trying to fix it. Reasons have included everything from “We need an influencer! Every successful brand these days is backed by a celebrity. True.” or “We need to become brilliant at email marketing! Our email performs best. We need to build crazy personalized drip campaigns, follow people’s paths on the internet, make them fall in love with us, then convert them into customers.” Sure. But how will you get people’s emails to begin with? And I don’t mean thousands of leads, I mean millions, so you can convert some small subset of them and build a real business. Grow your list to millions. Riiiight. One heck of a bet you’re making.” “We need to raise more money! Growing a subscription business is capital-intensive. Our issue is that we don’t have enough to spend on marketing, offering free trials etc.” And the list of epiphanies goes on and on. “We’ve never hired an amazing marketer! We need to find a digital mktg rock star.” Right, you and the rest of the tech world. “We need to be the faces of the brand! People want to see more of us. We need to be out there more.” Right, so you made some videos, you got some shares, people liked them. Now what?
Anywhoooo anywhoooo, boy do I digress. Just trying to remember the things we had come up with to share with you hurt my head. Because it’s really all useless at the end of the day. It’s just not working! Period. End of story. Get back up, shake it off, and come up with something different.
SO we set out to figure out what our business would be about if we are going to discontinue our major revenue generator. We started writing down ideas. Frantically looking for the best path forward. Then we had to pause for our CEO coaching call. This felt like an interruption. What we were working on was so important. But alas, it’s on the calendar, we must hop on the call. Do we share the decision we had just made? Well obviously we should, that’s the whole point of having a coach to talk to. But what if he tries to talk us out of this as many have tried before? “You can’t stop your subscription business! That’s what’s so brilliant about your company. That’s what makes you so unique! blah blah. Stop that talk. Get back to work.” We couldn’t afford any push-back right now, we needed to stay strong and stay the course on this difficult decision. Of course we shared the news… Hot off the press, we’ve decided we need to shut down our main line. He shared that he felt confused and scared. We had anticipated this. How did we feel? We feel scared and anxious of course, but we also feel empowered, emboldened, and hopeful. Hopeful because if we don’t do this, we now know we have no chance of building a billion-dollar company. Hopeful because now that we made this decision, we have a chance at building something awesome and lasting!
(He has been trying to teach us to be more mindful and aware as leaders, hence the questions about how we feel in our bodies. It was a good exercise to realize that more than feeling fear, we were feeling genuine excitement…)
We needed guidance on how to tackle the next question of what shld we focus on. How should we spend our afternoon tackling this? Woaw woaw, slow down, he said. An afternoon? The next day? That’s way too fast. What would it feel like if we took 6 weeks to explore the question of “what’s next”. 6 weeks? WHAT? That’s an eternity.
And after much back-and-forth (how do we keep our team motivated? how can we afford to do this? etc. etc.), we ultimately realized, HOLY SHIT, he’s so right. In what right mind did we think we could answer this in a few hours? We’re so far gone in never taking breaks that we thought it was a good idea to answer this within the week. BAD IDEA. This is how you end up jumping into the wrong shit and running around blindly chasing the next shiny thing. Oh and not to mention how you lose a shit ton of sleep feeling deathly anxious about your start-up, not wanting to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night because that will wake up your mind and it won’t stop racing…
So here I am, at the beginning of my six weeks. Lost, dazed, and confused. Staring at a blank canvas with no paintbrush or paint jars in hand. Not even sure if those are the right materials to fill up this canvas.
I don’t know the best way to tackle this next phase. But this is the poem that two coaches have separately shared with me to guide this exploration. Here it goes…