Friday, October 03, 2008

It's Like Riding a Bicycle

My first bike was a pink Huffy. I loved that bike. It was Mine. It had a cushy seat, handle bar frills, and a big flowery basket attached to the front. I was excited about riding it, but also fearful because I knew how much it would hurt if I fell. But having the encouragement of my father, I climbed on. Dad held it steady, and I made my first wobbly attempt down the driveway. As the day progressed, Dad held on less and less, let go sooner and sooner. I learned which muscles movements worked, I learned to put my foot down when I slowed, and after a while I could even turn before I hit the fence at the end of the drive.

In starting my own business, I realized that the experiences are the same. One day, I just knew it was time. I had a fledgling business that had customers, a mailing list, a website and a modest income. I had joined Bootstrap Austin two years prior and had seen others make the leap, had seen them struggle and then reach success. With encouragement from my friends, I made the leap - quit my job and never looked back.

Now that my livelihood was dependent on my business success, I said 'Yes!' to everything. I agreed to any opportunity to make contact with customers. Some things worked, some weren't so successful, and some were a complete waste of time, but I couldn't tell the difference at first. As I proceeded and gained confidence in my business model and my talent, I began to make better decisions. I narrowed my focus. I could look at an opportunity and say "that will take me too far off course" or "I know that is the right direction for me."

When I was in college psychology courses studying learning and memory, I was introduced to a model of learning developed by Fitts and Posner. They proposed that learning a task involved three key elements: watching others perform the task, getting experienced feedback, and continual elimination of unnecessary movements. The similarities between starting my business and learning a new physical skill struck me. The same principles that allow children and athletes learn and hone a complex action also apply to the stages of bootstrapping a business.

In Ideation, we watch and learn from our peers, we meet others who have been on their entrepreneurial paths, and we start developing the courage to trust ourselves. In the Valley of Death, we leave the security of our jobs, and start the conversation with the customer - learning what works, and what doesn't - the elimination of unnecessary action. In Growth, we know our customers, we know what they want, and we can start adding additional services that add flair and value.

The bootstrap community provided the essential components of learning along the way. In Ideation, I got my bike and met my peers and teachers. In the VoD, I wobbled off, ran into a few fences but eventually learned what worked, and more importantly, what didn't. Soon now, I will enter Growth and start doing really cool tricks, and maybe even help someone else take their first wobbly ride.

Marcy Hoen is the Founder of Austin Art Start, co-lead for the Bootstrap Art Subgroup, and lead the Bootstrap Ideation Subgroup for 2007.

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