How Many Swings Should You Take?
First pitch home-runs are incredibly rare. Only 120 baseball players all-time have ever hit a HR on sight of their first pitch. For 22 of these, this was their only home run ever and merely half of them hit more than 10 their entire career. Who is on that list of 120 names? Very few would consider to be all-star caliber baseball players. Imagine first pitch home run was a criteria to remain in the majors? We would never see the greatness of Derek Jeter — who went 0 for 7 in his first at bats including 5 strike outs.
As an entrepreneur, you have to ask how many swings you can want to take at an idea to get it off the ground, when you want to take them and what you are swinging for. Sometimes, this number is fixed, especially if your business is dependent on outside financing. However, even in those cases, just because the investor money runs dry does not mean it is not time to take another at bat. You may have missed the target established from industry research or from talking with others or defined what traction (I have never gotten a clear answer on what this really is) may look like. You may have even achieved those goals but without other tangible results that people were really expecting, the thumbs up to continue would not be given.
Technology and business services start-ups have some added complexities and are often encouraged to follow a strict path of execution and given some flexibility to allow for the proverbial ‘pivot’, which often needs to be backed by market research and business operations support. These can be good things, but if it takes away a few exploratory, real-world at bats, this well-intentioned advice is not doing the business any favors. You can be a PhD level expert on an industry and business trends but until applied in practice, they remain unproven. Incidentally, just because a theory was proven incorrect by real world results does not mean the business should be closed or be forced to go in an entirely different direction.
Learn the industry, apply those learnings and keep swinging. Release an app that got 0 downloads its first week? Try again with a different marketing campaign. Launch a business that had 20 non-paying users in its first week of existence? Take another swing — it’s clearly working on some level. Avoid the temptation to outright surrender or radically change directions just because potential investors yawned at the first round of results. Believe in your value proposition but are burning cash fast? It might be time to take a couple of more swings, perhaps zero cost ones, rather than focusing all of your attention to refilling the bank with non-core revenue or other financing.
The bigger lesson is that to be a successful entrepreneur, your business has to do something newer, better or differently than what is already taking place out there. That means it is absolutely new territory. And while good, shrewd decision making and resource management are critical, there is no manual and by definition, the establishment rules do not apply. To succeed, an entrepreneur has to write a new formula — one that has not been previously presented in the marketplace.
Spending another year in the minors or on the bench are part of the journey — as is maybe missing your first handful of swings. If you need to bat .333 as an entrepreneur to be successful (some say .100 is also hugely successful), avoid the temptation to feel you have to go 1 for 3 each week or time iteration. Three 0 for 3 days coupled with a 5 for 5 outing will get you above .333 and completely erase the 0 for 9 start from anyone’s memory.