How to Adapt to Startup Challenges
By Omar shareef
August 15, 2017
This article is by Omar Shareef, summer program alum and cofounder of VirTune. How does a check-in service become one of the foremost social media platforms of our time? How does a baking soda salesman decide to turn his company into a chewing gum brand which currently generates billions in revenue? How does a company that produced playing cards and vacuum cleaners become the giant of the gaming industry they are today? The stories of Instagram, Wrigley, and Nintendo all exemplify adaptability, a trait which is key for success in today’s economy. For many, change is something to be feared. Most people prefer a predictable life over one wrought with uncertainty. But in the world of entrepreneurship, you have to be adaptable and willing to experience change.
Learning to be Adaptable as an Entrepreneur
LaunchX was one of the most fulfilling, valuable, and enjoyable experiences of my life, and I could not have asked for a better summer program to attend. I, along with my fantastic cofounders—Sumit Chandra, Aryaman Kunzru, and Avinash Ashok—created VirTune, an online platform with a library of songs that can be learned on the piano in under 45 minutes. At LaunchX, the notion that adaptability is a cornerstone of the entrepreneurial spirit was furthered in my mind. I learned that, at some point, you need to be able to adapt to a range of obstacles in your path, whether these be keeping up with a timeline, changing your product to give yourself a competitive advantage, or targeting a new market based on insights you gained from your primary market research.
Pivoting Based on Passions and Feedback
We completed our month at LaunchX with a product that was completely different from what we had started with. I would never have guessed that the product which we started with—an agricultural drone that monitors diseases in crops—would have turned into a music platform to teach songs, but that is exactly what happened. Not only did we completely change our idea from one based on agriculture to one for music, but we also went through a series of pivots once we realized we wanted to do something in music education. What originally had started out as an online platform that would teach theory and how to play the fundamentals of an instrument, turned into a database of songs from which we could teach you how to play a song in a short amount of time, without any prior experience required. Our journey during LaunchX was an arduous one, but enjoyable nonetheless. At first, when our company sought to build an agricultural drone, we simply realized that there are already existing solutions that fill the need, and none of us had the experience to build an offering that had a competitive advantage. After hours of brainstorming, deliberating, and (I’ll admit) some arguing, we finally realized we all wanted to make it easier to learn the fundamentals of an instrument online.
Team VirTune (right to left): Aryaman, Omar, Avinash, and Sumit[/caption] Once we had this idea, we carried out market research and soon realized there was not considerable interest, and so set out to think of something new. After a series of pivots, we finally realized exactly what we wanted to do, make a platform where people can learn new songs in a fun, affordable, and time-effective manner, and we would not have reached that point if we did not adapt at every step of the way.
Each Adaptation Will Get You Closer
At the time, every change in our product during LaunchX seemed like another uphill battle. We would have to start anew, begin conducting another round of market research, and then evaluate to see if the idea was any good. In retrospect, I can now see that every iteration of our product was better than its predecessor. If we continued with our drone, we may not have finished building our minimum viable product by the end of LaunchX, and if we did not pivot based on our market research, we may have made something no one needed or even wanted. Having to adapt your offering can be pretty tough in the moment, but I can almost guarantee that it will be beneficial in the long run. At LaunchX, I did not expect or even want to change our company so often, but I realized that the program truly facilitates change and encourages adaptability by having us form our own companies, which led to tremendous learning in the long run. Based on my experience at LaunchX, I gained valuable insight that will forever help me in my entrepreneurial pursuits. The market is like a river. It is fluid and things are always changing, and if you want to keep up, you have to adapt with all of its changes to offer something that people truly want. But if you fail to adapt, you will be dragged off of your feet by the raging river rapids, and before you know it you will have been swept away.
My Advice to First-Time Entrepreneurs
Many times, when developing a product, you may have an urge to hold onto your creation irrationally, without thinking objectively of the pros and cons. I can say that I have been guilty of doing this myself. If you want to be able to change for the better and adapt to new circumstances, you can’t be closed-minded. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment, no matter how easy it is to fall into that trap. Whenever I think that perhaps I am being biased when looking at a product or an idea, I look to peers or mentors to share their opinions. Especially at LaunchX, there is a plethora of others—students, staff, and mentors—who are willing to sit down and talk to you about anything, but the key is you must initiate. If you fail to start the conversation, you will remain locked in your trap. Beginning the dialogue is key to getting information from others on whether your product or idea is actually viable. Furthermore, people from other cultures and background often have differing perspectives which can often be very helpful and may address something you had not thought of in the past. One thing I distinctly remember from LaunchX are the late night idea sessions, during which a bunch of us Launchies would sit in a room and bounce ideas off each other and try to get help from one another. Out of this melting pot of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and perspectives from some of the most amazing people I have ever met came some pretty brilliant ideas, and also some not-so-great ones. When you are experiencing a mental block or are stagnating, my suggestion to you is to sit down with a bunch of other people and simply talk it out. The results can be truly astounding. In my opinion, the key to adaptability is to not be narrow-minded. You can accomplish this by trying to gain knowledge and insight from everyone you meet, because even the most unassuming person may contribute something new to whatever endeavor you are trying to pursue.