I hate to admit this, but some mornings after I wake up, I catch myself scrolling through my Instagram Feed. My favorite part of this activity is when I scroll to National Geographic’s account or other fascinating and inspiring profiles (Nike has great photos with cool inspiration, and I always love the amazing photos of our world on Discover Earth).
On that day, after scrolling through endless CrossFit memes, pictures of early summer Vegas partying and everyone’s meals for the week, I finally found something of substance when I came to this post from National Geographic:
“A newly hatched leatherback sea turtle scrambles towards the ocean, about to experience saltwater for the first time in Trinidad. Only about one in 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood due to predators. But nature has compensated for this and female leatherbacks have multiple clutches of hundreds of babies. What these animals cannot overcome are the anthropogenic stresses, such as getting caught in fishing gear, poaching and climate change and as a result have struggled to survive.
Leatherbacks never stop swimming once in the sea; they remain in perpetual motion. Their lineage dates back more than 100 million years, older than dinosaurs.”
What an amazing story of adaptability, and even though they may be “struggling to survive,” I’d say they’ve done a pretty dang good job seeing as how they date back before dinosaurs more than 100 million years ago.
I couldn’t help to think of the startup world, and how important adaptability is to an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur, in my opinion, is arguably the most adaptable creature in modern day culture. I believe it is one of the greatest traits an entrepreneur can possess.
I recently had the pleasure and opportunity to interview Brian Smith, the founder of UGG, for a development project. As he explained his life as an entrepreneur, he continually came back to the point that, “being an entrepreneur is a series of plateaus and obstacles. We’re faced with a new challenge, and we’ll either overcome it, or not. The point in time at which we do not overcome our challenges, is the point in time in which we 'fail.'"
This is another prime example of adaptability, which is the ability to adjust to different conditions.
Thanks in part to business jargon produced by different trends, this term has been referred to in other ways. For instance, in regards to lean startup methodology, we’ve come to see this revolutionary trait masked in another term -- “pivot.” Pivoting is not a new term, in fact as you can see it in the leatherback turtle scenario above. Pivoting has been going on for more than 100 million years, and is better defined as adaptability or Darwinism -- “Survival of the Fittest.”
When writing my book, Hacking the Valley, I conducted an extensive amount of research on the tech sector and the companies and people that make up the space. Two of my favorite stories of adapting to marketplace demands come in the form of what are now two billion-dollar-plus tech behemoths. The stories of Pinterest and Twitter exemplify this unique ability to adapt and thrive in uncertain conditions. I’ve also experienced this firsthand while building my own company, Agent Beta.
Around 2009, a new mobile shopping app hit the marketplace. During that time, mobile shopping was a new experience, and Tote hoped to capitalize on the opportunity. The app itself gave users the “tools” to easily window-shop on their phones. Additionally, the app contained features that allowed users to price track and save their favorite items in one central place.
Related: Are Entrepreneurs Wired Differently?
Unfortunately, there were obstacles Tote could not adapt to and overcome, including easy mobile payment gateways. Tote did not survive. However, a new concept rose in its place, powered by the collections of items Tote users had been gathering. This became the inception of Pinterest, and as Pinterest rose to billion-dollar valuations, Ben Silverman showed the startup world the power of entrepreneur adaptability.
Oh, Odeo. The platform organized and aggregated podcast channels, and then allowed users the ability to create playlists and provided tools to create their own podcasts in their browsers -- it had so much promise. Unfortunately, similar to the Atlas bear (which has been extinct since the 1800s and was used in gladiator matches and to gruesomely execute criminals in the Roman empire) trying to survive in Africa without trees, Odeo became extinct as podcasts became less popular.
Twittr, as it was initially coined, was simply a side project as the Twitter team focused its primary efforts on Odeo. Interesting enough, Twitter ended up taking on a life of its own that survived its predecessor. Thanks in large part to the adaptability of Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and the rest of the Twitter founding team, the company has attained high profile status, is a publicly traded company and has become a daily internationally used platform.
You may not have heard of this one. It is my creative digital and development agency. Since 2013 we’ve overcome partner issues, multiple business model “pivots” and conquered all types of startup obstacles. Despite challenges, we’ve learned how to overcome and thrive in the face of extreme adversity. We’re stronger from it and our business continues to grow -- we were just nominated for an international CSS Award and have clients such as the California Department of Education, Orange County Department of Education and 2014 CrossFit Games Winner Camille LeBlanc.
Here’s my point: We, as startup founders, must learn how to overcome obstacles and thrive. We must be fluid in our thinking, creative in our problem-solving and ambitious in our intent. We must learn to adapt, or else we’ll just end up being another tick in the startup extinction list. Lucky for the world, we as entrepreneurs are a pretty astounding breed.