Jan. 11, 1987, a cold, damp day in Cleveland, Denver Broncos guard Keith Bishop defiantly issued a statement that will forever be etched in my memory and all of Broncos Country.
Facing a hostile crowd of 79,915 Browns fans in -5 degrees, trailing 20-13 with 5:43 left, John Elway and the Broncos’ offense, including Bishop, took over on their own 2-yard line. The Browns’ defense had plenty of reason to be laughing, but Bishop was downright angry.
“They don’t know it, but we have them right where we want them,” Bishop said.
Thus began the most famous march in NFL history — “The Drive,” With Elway leading the way the Broncos marched 98 yards, scoring a touchdown on a 5-yard pass to Mark Jackson. Tying the game 20-20 with 37 seconds left. With 5:48 played in overtime, Rich Karlis kicked a 33-yard field goal for a 23-20 Denver victory that sent the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI.
That was the first Bronco game I remember as I was only 8 years old at the time, but what a game to begin my love affair with football and as a Bronco fan. It embedded in me a powerful subliminal message as well; that as long as you have fight in you and there’s time on the clock, you’re never out of the game. I was thinking about that game the other day as I drew comparisons to what we’re going through as entrepreneurs.
Like my Broncos on that day, our business is now facing a similar task. With the clock winding down, we face long odds. The sobering fact is that 90% of start-up businesses fail. As I’m writing this, our backs are against the wall. Our company is struggling to survive. The weight of that reminder is heavy in the back of our minds. Some odds-makers might say that the writing is on the wall. As they start circling to collect their money, what they don’t know is; “We’ve got them right where we want them!” That is our mindset.
It’s a strange feeling to feel so optimistic at such a time but that’s what it takes to succeed. It’s an interesting and ironic thing to be writing about success from our current standpoint. After all, we haven’t succeeded yet, we’re far from it.
If you do your research you’ll read or hear hundreds of interviews with successful entrepreneurs talking about what it took to succeed, but its always from the perspective of ultimate success. They won. They’re giving that interview and telling that story from the winners circle. I always wished I could go back and talk to that same person while they were deep in the thick of it, while they were getting gut punched day after day, and while they were starring down long odds. That’s when the magic happened, when their metal was tested, where they summoned up what it takes to drive 98 yards and win a game.
So here I go..
1ST DOWN: Believe you’ll succeed
I often equate staring a business to climbing a mountain. You start off with the best of intentions and even when you’re prepared things can go wrong. Adversity shows up daily knocking you back a few steps, forcing you to sit out for a bit, and sometimes makes you question whether or not you should continue on. Have a goal when you start and keep it in your mind. This is why you keep your eye on the summit, to remind yourself what your goal is, but realize it’s one step at a time. Focus on one task at a time and suddenly you’ll find yourself further along. The more you learn the wiser you become and but all starts with the belief you’ll succeed. I always feel more emboldened after facing adversity. It strengthens my resolve and therefore I don’t have a negative relationship with failures or mistakes.
2ND DOWN: It’s a team sport
Pick your phrase; “It takes a village,” or “Teamwork makes the dream work,” those saying exist for a reason; they’re true! Entrepreneurship is tough! It is It is a lonely solitary road that few people have the courage to go down. You can’t do it alone. Surround yourself with good people and chose partners wisely. You’re going into battle and you need to know the people in that huddle want it as bad as you do and will leave nothing out on the field. Partnerships change too, have periodic check-ins to make sure that both competency and commitment are still at a high level as the journey wears on. Additionally, get a board of trusted advisers that can offer relevant mentor-ship in areas where you simply don’t have enough information and experience. You can meet some of these people by attending workshops, seminars and networking events in addition to learning a lot. Most importantly; lean on your family. Entrepreneurship is all-encompassing at times and it’s a heavy burden to carry. Personally, I’ve been at this for five years now while holding a full-time job for most of it, at the same time I’m starting a family. It’s a lot to take on but having my family in my corner and being open about my struggles versus internalizing it has helped me through some tough moments.
3RD DOWN: Reassess & Reinvent
Retail is a moving target and just when you think you’ve got the recipe for success; the game has changed. In an uncertain future with varied consumer demographics and differing sets of values, take a step back and reassess your foundation. Are your fundamentals sound? Can you pop the top and add to what you’ve got? If the answer is no, then you need to make some tough and uncomfortable decisions. Transforming while preforming takes courage but the beauty of being a small business is that you can make these moves relatively quick compared to big companies. It doesn’t come without a cost though. After listening to our customers, we decided to re-formulate our product, upgrade our packaging, re-build our website, and reform our marketing message - while still trying to grow in retail. Despite our best attempts at a smooth transition, we still had disruption on the shelf where we had retailers’ re-boot us which caused an interruption in sales. In the end we feel we made the right move. We picked the ladder up and moved it to a taller wall with higher potential. Our product was great but it was far from perfect. We felt that we needed to strengthen our foundation (taste, shelf-life, packaging, etc..) so we could grow and while it slowed us down a bit we have the best version of our product that we’ve ever had and the sales are starting to validate those moves.
4TH DOWN: You can’t win if you don’t go for it!
You didn’t come here to lay up did you? Go for it and be BOLD! The wheel that squeaks loudest get grease right, so make some noise. Take risks in marketing messages, try some off-the wall things that get people talking about you. There is a lot of competition in every industry and you have to cut through a lot of noise to get noticed, so go deep. At the end of this you don’t want to look back and say you left anything on the field so bet on yourself to win. It starts with envisioning success and then actualizing it. Be a leader and lead your team and make them better players. If you do that, you’ll never feel out of the game and you’ll always have a chance.