3 Things My Roomba Taught Me about Being an Entrepreneur
As I sat today thinking about the piles of things I needed to accomplish, I watched my Roomba grind along the floor with artful precision. She slid into every corner, relentlessly sucking up cat fur, crumbs, and sand from last week’s beach trip. When she hit a wall, she turned around and plowed ahead until she hit another wall with her spinning blades mercilessly gobbling every bit of debris she could suck up.
I was mesmerized. I watched her do her job flawlessly (my Roomba identifies as being female because she has three pinup model stickers that I placed years ago on her glossy exterior). My Roomba is relentless and keen, efficient and graceful. I could watch her all day.
I thought about the challenges that I have faced as an entrepreneur — the painfully early mornings, the what-the-h-e-double-hockey-sticks-am-I-doing-with-my-life terror, and the frustrating setbacks I have encountered. And I realized . . . the Roomba is the perfect teacher and mascot for entrepreneurs all over the world.
There are three (and probably many more) great reasons that any Roomba is the perfect model for effective entrepreneurship. Ah, Roomba, let me count the ways I adore thee:
Grace on the top, Grind on the bottom
My Roomba glides along the floor with a fluid elegance that would put any ballet dancer to shame. Her sleek black exterior (and yes, the pinup model stickers) reflect the sunlight as she effortlessly shifts from corner to corner, coolly adjusting her angle with every obstacle.
However, if you turn her over, her wheels are spinning as fast as her little engine can manage. She has three wheels, two spinning brushes, and a battery that are grinding incessantly for one common goal — to clean the floor as thoroughly as possible.
And clean she does. She is an imposing danger to any piece of dust or debris that she encounters because beneath her polished serene exoskeleton, she is determinedly sprinting toward the finish line.
Don’t we all wish we could operate with the dichotomy of a Roomba. Entrepreneurship requires relentless grind, countless hours working toward a vision of the future, and the grace to not tip anyone off that you’re struggling. If we could adopt that coolness under pressure, that determination to crush every day with laser focus while appearing calm and collected, we would all be the better for it.
Plow into a wall and pivot
My relentless Roomba has laser focus (I think she might actually have a laser-laser as well, but that’s another story). She sets her sights on a goal — clean all debris in my path toward the east side of the bedroom — and then she goes for it. She toils along her trajectory, leaves no hairball uncleaned, and then . . . BAM! She hits a wall.
Most of us, human and machine alike, stop when we encounter an obstacle on the way toward a goal. Not only does the Roomba plow right into the obstacle, she doesn’t stop. She pauses, reorients herself toward another direction, and keeps on working. And she does this over and over until the room is clean.
In any startup, pivoting is inevitable at some point. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. Unfortunately, the pivot has become so successful that many entrepreneurs pivot too early, before they hit a wall.
Roomba is the perfect example of how to keep progressing toward a goal. Go until you can’t go anymore, pause, reestablish a different path, keep working. So many hugely successful businesses were successful because they pivoted — YouTube, Yelp, Shopify — but, had they not already been moving, they would not have had the opportunity to hit a wall, pause, and pivot.
The corners are important
The most successful people I know are painstakingly thorough when it counts. My Roomba recognizes that cleaning the floor is not just about making sure the center of the floor is sparkly. She cleans the corners of the room as well. She doesn’t just clean the corners, she focuses on the corners.
Why is this important in entrepreneurship? The dirt in the corners tends to multiply. In your company, if there are small things that you identify that can be cleaned up, it’s likely that if you don’t address them, they’ll spill out onto the main floor of your business.
It’s easy to focus on the macro, to maximize productivity, and to sweep any issues that are in the “corner” of our vision under the proverbial rug (pun intended). Here’s the thing — people notice this. The companies that sweat the small stuff, the ones that give extra attention to the small details, are the ones that enjoy the greatest successes.
One of my favorite examples of detail-oriented success is that of Richard Branson and the Virgin Atlantic salt and pepper shakers. People were stealing windmill-shaped salt and pepper shakers from Virgin flights — to the tune of $3 million. But, rather than remove the shakers, Branson chose to write “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic” on the bottom and quickly created a brilliant marketing scheme.
Whether it’s personally replying to the one disgruntled customer’s email, stamping a witty quote on the bottom of your packaging, or any other detail, in any startup, the smallest details can yield the biggest outcomes.
As I watch my Roomba complete her work, I send this wish to all of you entrepreneurs: May you work to clean the corners of your startup, pause and pivot when encountering obstacles, and maintain grace on the top and grind on the bottom.
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