Reviving a zombie company: can Lean Startup help?
This might seems an off-topic, but I think it is important to talk about those many startups that keep living in a “zombie” (or “sleeping” or “on hold”) status. Especially in Europe, creating and leading a company is good food for CEOs’ egos, even if the company is not actually running. This is also related to the “perfectionism” paralysis and to the fact that one is waiting for the “right” opportunity to get funded.
All elements that lead to zombie companies, which by the way hide themselves behind the “startup” status: we are a startup, we don’t ship yet, but anyway we don’t consume resources…
There are also other types of zombie companies such as those “very close to death” described in this Mashable post. This is another story. These companies rather woken up from “coma”.
In this post I am talking about companies that can exist for unlimited time and they can possibly never die, just because they are not running.
So what? How can Lean Startup help in reviving a zombie company?
Here are my suggestions.
1. Pivot! Yes, if your business is stagnating, you need a shake! The pivot might (and probably should) very radical. You have probably a core technology or competence that has not found a compelling problem to solve and you don’t have customers. Therefore, start looking again for problems. Even if you are very biased by the technology you have, you might discover a new applicability of it to a completely different problem (and sometimes even with minimal adaptation).
Look at the Groupon case: they were selling a platform for collecting money to support causes. They had their Eureka day and switched to daily deals.
It goes without saying that your pivot will entail an entire rethinking of your Business Model. So, define your new hypotheses and setup the right experimental framework to validate them.
2. Change the team. This might sound blunt, but only who has the determination and the gut to take risks (and do the pivot) should remain in the company. Those who are responsible of the zombie status must leave. No way! I would add one more thing: the CEO of the company (at least in the startup stage) must be the one who invented the product or service (or the technology). Anyone else would blame the product/service/technology if the traction is missing. If you are the “heart” of the company, you must be the CEO. If ti happens that it is not the case, you need to take back this role.
3. Build a new MVP. After the pivot, you had to build something new and test it. That sounds like a no-brainer, but we want to avoid our company to move to a new zombie state after the pivot. Please, don’t fall again into the “perfectionism” paralysis. This time, do it differently. Be minimal and viable and try to get early feedback from customers!
4. Define the metrics that matter… and set yourself targets and goals. Don’t enter in the usual mindset: let’s try something and see what happens. If you do something, it must be because you want to achieve a precise goal.
5. Don’t blame yourself and others. You know, shit happens! Of course, there are people accountable for the situation, but you were in a team and therefore you agreed with the overall strategy. If you are the one who will have to take the lead, do it professionally. Be factual and take rational decision, not emotional. This is easy to recommend, but hard to implement. In any case, as I said before, those who are directly responsible of the situation should step back and leave the floor to more motivated leaders.
6. Start to have fun again. Last but not least, you might have faced bad days with you company and you no longer wanted to invest time and money on it. At the same time, you did not want to kill it as it was your “baby”. But now, you have to somehow start from the scratch. It is a sort of rebirth. You will face new challenges and you really need to change the way you work. Meet new people and talk with them about your new challenges and business ideas. Maybe, participate to startup events such as Startup Weekend or LeanStartupMachine to develop your new ideas. Act as it was a new start. In other words, you want to turn your zombie startup into a new thriving company.
In the hope of seing less zombie startups, I finally recommend to consider failure as part of the game. Remember, that for startups, there is never failure. There are only invalidated hypotheses, which turn out to always be a useful learning.
Let me conclude with this quotation:
“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a mistake.”
Your comments on this post are highly appreciated.