The world today is no longer the same as it was just a month ago. The uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic creates a new reality not only for each and every one of us personally, but also for your business. In fact, whatever your product/market fit was last month- chances are you will need to change or adapt it to meet the new norms.
To emphasize this, Steve Blank suggests a crystal-clear message in his recent blog post: “if you’re leading any startup or small business, you have to be asking yourself: What’s Plan B? And what’s in my lifeboat?”.
Answering this critical question begins with identifying possible backup options and assessing how promising they might be down the road. Then, you need to clearly communicate your Plan B vision, and align your team and stakeholders around it. Here are few structured steps that can help you in this messy process.
1. Set some assumptions about the ‘day after’
Social isolation and the declared global health emergency have a tremendous impact on our society and economy. Companies in almost all industries are shutting down activities and sending employees home. For startups and small businesses who struggle with low cash reserves, the impact of this unexpected downturn may simply be detrimental.
The glass is definitely half empty, but it can also be half-full! The new conditions create all sorts of new opportunities: businesses will be looking for ways to reduce their costs, increase efficiency, operate online, or work with remote staff. Consumers will likely change the way they work, travel and shop.
As you strive to choose your next steps, the first thing you need to do is make some assumptions on how the “day after” would look like: what would be the common trends and needs in your domain? Of course, these assumptions are currently still difficult to validate, but they align your team around a shared view on your business environment down the road.
2. Recognize your building blocks and imagine different towers
Good backup opportunities should be relying on your core, unique abilities. Therefore, begin the discovery process by clearly characterizing these competencies. In fact, once you think about your core technological elements in their own right – decoupled from any specific product- they become your building blocks. You can now combine and re-combine them in many different ways, to create different offerings that can address the future needs of different customers.
A structured thought process to help you in this discovery activity is depicted in Worksheet 1 of the Market Opportunity Navigator. Apply it to run a guided brainstorming session with your (remoted) team. It will not only help you in scanning possible backup opportunities systematically, but will also allow you to develop your cognitive flexibility- a key ability in times of uncertainty.
3. Assess synergies to minimize effort
In such turbulent times, scarcity of resources is probably the one undoubted condition. Hence, among the different backup options that you identified, try to focus on those that will require minimum additional efforts to pursue. In other words- assess synergies and evaluate the relatedness of possible backup opportunities to your existing lines of business.
Relatedness means that pursuing this new business opportunity will require relatively similar resources and capabilities. The more related an option is, the more you can leverage your existing competencies to succeed in it. And this is exactly what we want.
Using Worksheet 3 of the Market Opportunity Navigator, you can assess the product relatedness and market relatedness of different backup options. When done, choose few possible opportunities that can form your ‘plan B’, and prioritize them in a simple manner: which one you plan to focus on now, and which options you will keep open as a future fallback.
4. Communicate and learn as you go
Every day looks a bit different and the future is still vague. Yet, you simply cannot allow yourself to wait patiently until the fog disappears. You need to make some decisions now, and clearly communicate your plan to employees and investors.
Align your team around an achievable plan, and set clear learning goals as you move forward. Be systematic about this learning and reflect on your insights periodically. It’s the best you can do when wondering in the dark.
At the end of the day, keep in mind that uncertainties and crises force companies to be creative and agile. It’s clearly not an easy job, but structured processes can turn it into a more manageable task. Startups that will be able to creatively maintain their agility, will excel and shine when better days arrive. Amen 🙂