Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Brazlian Jiu Jitsu for Bootstrappers

There's an admirable purity about a person that will step inside a ring and put it all on the line. I'm a big fan of mma athletes, or ultimate fighters as they are sometimes called. If you watch the UFC, you know that in today's modern world of competitive fighting, you either know Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) or you lose. And in BJJ, there's a common saying that is repeated over and over: always face your opponent. I've heard it in boxing as well, but in BJJ, always facing your opponent is law.

BJJ was invented by the Gracie family in Rio De Janeiro, and is similar to wrestling. However, rather than trying to pin your opponent, you try to "submit him" with a submission hold. In wrestling it is common to turn away from your opponent while on the ground. Submitting an opponent in BJJ is typically done by applying a choke or joint hyperextension until the opponent "taps out." If you apply a submission hold and your opponent doesn't tap out you either end up with an unconscious opponent or one with a severely torn joint. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the easiest way to get tapped out is to turn away from your opponent.

I see a lot of similarities between BJJ and starting a business. The easiest way to get tapped out as a business is to turn away from your issues or challenges. As a bootstrapper, you don't have the luxury that investment capital affords. If you don't address your issues, you go out of business and the margin of error is razor thin. The faster you face your challenges, the faster you can address them and move on. If you think your business doesn't have issues, you're probably not looking hard enough

I started a return-on-investment consulting business, Wilson & Company, as a nights-and-weekends side job back in 2001. It was just me (not much of an "& Company") and I created ROI models in Excel and Visual Basic to help sales groups of technology companies sell their products. When your company is just you, it's easy to keep tabs on issues. You are the only tab. In 2005, I started Small World Labs, a social networking platform company that currently employs 27 people and has over 100 customers. When you combine the words "product" along with "employees" and "customers," things get more complex. And when things are more complex, there are more challenges to address.

Over Small World Labs' history we've faced the gamut of challenges as a company - from founder issues to quality control. Anytime I've seen an issue and not faced it, it has come back to bite us in the rear more severely. You only have 24 hours in the day so prioritization is a challenge in itself. However, deprioritizing an issue does not make it go away. Most times, it gets worse and you start to feel submission hold. That's when you absolutely have to face it or tap out.

Sometimes I've found I don't know how to solve an issue at first, but know it exists. Having a good network helps in these situations, from fellow entrepreneurs to business advisors. When you start to share your issues with trusted advisors, you often get a good, honest perspective on how to move forward. However, if you're the CEO, one way or another, it's incumbent on you to make sure your company is facing its opponents and not tapping out. Your employees, customers, partners, and investors depend on it.

No comments: