Care and feeding of your pandemic business baby

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18 months ago, I moved into the Los Angeles condo where I presently live and work. At about the same time, the household next door added a new baby.

Every day of her life, for ten minutes, this baby girl just screams. Screams her little head off. Her daily shrieks pierce my windows. I’ve come to think of it as Scream O’Clock. Her parents and nanny seem beside themselves. She cannot be soothed. 

In these moments, I think, rage against the machine, tiny human. Get those big feelings out.

I feel for her. The last three years, and her entire lifetime, have been an extended, uncertain slog. If your business is one of the 10 million pandemic babies, you may think this is how it always is, chaos and pivoting and a constant hustle. You may want your ten minutes of primal scream therapy.

Whether you started your business before or after 2020, frustration may leave you in search of the easy answer. Enter the myriad of experts — coaches, consultants, gurus — that offer you a framework or a playbook. 

Here’s the thing about frameworks: they are built on someone else’s vision of success, perhaps with a foundation of systemic factors that you don’t want to invite into your company.

  • Large, resource destroying, unprofitable businesses. (That’s many venture capital frameworks.)
  • A workplace culture that you don’t want to own, let alone work in. (That’s most sales, legal, human resources, and hiring frameworks.)
  • Hiring people who hear the word “scale” and assume it means grow your revenue as large as possible at all costs, values and people be damned. (That’s humans trained to make things “corporate.”)

Most disappointingly, I see people in the small business finance and advisory space saying things like, “Why not use the playbook that men have used for centuries to get rich?” 

If you want to do business in a different way, you must be constantly vigilant about who and what you’re inviting into your world. 

For me, it’s intersectionality or nothing. It’s very hard to add back fairness and equity after you build a whole machine, because the machine now works for a bunch of people who don’t want it to change. 

And frankly, when you base your business on those who had success in “what has been,” you’re buying into a small and shrinking market. Let me throw you some stats from America:

  • 78% of Americans identify as something other than heterosexual, cisgendered White men – that’s 258 million of 331 million people. (US Census)
  • 62% of all elected representative positions are held by heterosexual, cisgendered White men. (The Hill)
  • 21% of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ+, as do 7.1% of Americans overall, about 24 million people. (Gallup, and Happy Pride!)
  • 82% of consumers want to buy from brands with values that align to their own and 75% have dumped at least one brand that did not. (Harris / Google Cloud)
  • 80-85% of all household consumer purchase decisions are made by women. (Forbes)
  • 70% of all U.S. investable assets ($30 trillion) are currently controlled by Baby Boomer men. (McKinsey)
  • By 2030, 70% of Boomer wealth will shift into the hands of women, whether through spousal death or child inheritance — that’s $21 trillion dollars making a very fast transition.. (McKinsey)
  • 15% of American workers are full-time independent contractors (gig workers) and up to 40% are at least partially self-employed through a side hustle (Bloomberg)
  • Since 2020, 50% of all new businesses were started by women; of that, 78% were founded by women from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. (Gusto)

So while the daily headlines tell you to freak out about generative AI and $3,500 ski goggles, what we should really be embracing is an opportunity to use our work and purpose to support a major demographic and wealth shift. 

A huge group of people are sitting up and saying, this isn’t working for me, I don’t want to work and live in a way that doesn’t value me as a person. And oh by the way, I’ve now got some money to spend in line with my values.

A few companies have built businesses that speak to changing times and trends. But it’s new — a new approach to equity, hiring, benefits, operations, pricing, customer experience. For me, that’s exciting. But it also means there isn’t a checklist sitting on someone’s digital shelf for $39.

If you want to build a different kind of company, clearly define what that means for you. Know yourself as a founder / CEO — what’s in, what’s out, where you’re not sure yet. 

You’ll also need to invest time and money into people who can challenge, advise, and help you grow from a place of aligned values. 

I outlined this approach for an upcoming podcast, so I’m just going to give it to you.

My “playbook” is to flip most of what I learned in strategic marketing to focus on you first.

  • What do I want to do?
  • What skills do I have?
  • Who / what do I know and enjoy?
  • What’s my purpose for doing this work?
  • What financial and lifestyle needs and wants do I have?

After you answer those questions, you have a set of filters to consider:

  • What’s the product or service?
  • Who is my aligned customer?
  • Does that customer have willingness to pay and a desire to buy, and are there enough of them? (“Sufficiently large” in most of your cases is likely more like 10-1,000 per year versus a million or a billion.)

And finally:

  • For me, is this an interesting problem to solve?
  • Does it align to my purpose?

Especially for those of us with formal business training, this can be a challenging exercise. It’s not about researching and sizing a market opportunity and then figuring out how to capture a big chunk of it. It’s about creating a space for the work you want to do in the world and surrounding yourself with people who support you. 

Take some time to look at the underlying trend data — you have so much opportunity to build something that you feel great about, without compromise. If you want to bounce around some ideas, grab a 20-minute Strategy Session with me. 

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