I couldn’t sleep. It was the night before my business partner (and best friend) and I were supposed to sign an expensive contract with a tech developer. But something just didn’t feel right.
I was about to make a huge decision based on gut instinct alone.
But before I get into what that decision was---and if it was the right one---let me explain how we got into this situation.
Back in 2010, we won second place the Tufts Business Plan Competition, highlighted by Forbes as one of the 15 biggest university-sponsored competitions.
We did lots of research, competitive analysis, client profiles, and even sketched out an expensive technical project that we wanted to have built to help launch our idea.
Our prize money was just enough to cover most of the technical project.
But the night before signing the contract with the developer, I was restless. I worried about spending all of our winnings on this one project---especially because we had no real sense of our next steps.
In the end, we decided not to sign the contract.
Was it the right decision? We think so. But it doesn’t mean that our original, winning idea wasn’t a good one. We just hadn’t prepared properly to make such a large investment.
Deciding when to refine an idea instead of abandoning it can be tricky. We’ve done both---and both are necessary. Here are 5 lessons we learned about when to pivot and when to walk away.
Lesson #1: Test your idea to lower your risk before investing.
When we entered the first round of conversations with prospective clients, we were met with enthusiasm for the idea but lots of skepticism and uncertainty for how they’d fund it.
We hadn’t done a good job at easing their worries and countering their objections. (Often, the only way to do this is to show proof that your idea has worked before.)
We could have done this by starting small and working with one or two clients who were willing to experiment with us. This would’ve allowed us to slowly refine our idea until we could ease people’s fears and launch a more expensive rollout.
Lesson #2: Understand that you’ll encounter resistance.
At the time, we thought that validation meant getting an enthusiastic “yes” from most of our prospective customers and others in the industry. When we failed to get that right away, we saw that as feedback that our idea wasn’t a good one. As we continued to encounter lack of clarity for how to get our idea off the ground, we ended up abandoning it all together.
Our commitment to our idea wasn’t strong enough to overcome the resistance. In retrospect, we may have abandoned it too quickly. As history came to show, the idea, while radical for the time, was a good one.
Within a few years, our prospective clients came to realize that themselves and launched varying versions of our idea. We’ll never know whether we could have ever gotten the idea to success if we’d stayed with it long enough.
Lesson #3: Listen to your target market.
Keep digging further, ask questions, and be open to refining your idea with the new information you’re learning in mind.
We decided to start a video interview series, interviewing established and often famous people in our industry. We asked them how they succeeded, what they thought about the future of music, and what their biggest pain points were.
Over the course of two years, we did over 200 interviews, which gave us a huge variety of ideas for how we could add value to our industry.
This led to a new tech solution (albeit much less complex) that we released to performing artists. This time, we learned all the HTML code necessary to launch this concept ourselves (so that we didn’t have to hire an expensive developer).
We were on a mission. So many performing artists told us there was a gap---and we were ready to fill it.
Lesson #4: Follow your competency and passion.
Unlike our first idea that we abandoned, this time even when we got a “no,” we persevered.
The good news was that we made some sales. The bad news? We didn’t make enough. After a year, it was clear to us that this business wasn’t working financially. Plus, we were bogged down by learning code.
Even though tech-driven offers were the trend back in 2009, we realized that the technology portion of our ideas were neither our competency nor our passion.
We were passionate about working with people---getting to know them deeply (as we did through our interviews), understanding what was holding them back, and supporting them however we could.
We finally realized (thanks to help from our coaches Carolyn Freyer-Jones and Michelle Bauman) that a coaching business could be a valuable service that people pay for.
All the pieces clicked. We merged the principles of coaching with our understanding of the musician mentality and career process.
Lesson #5: Allow your business to evolve naturally.
Our coaching business became and still is a major driver of our success. Plus, it allowed us to expand in a whole new direction. Before long, our clients asked if we would represent them as their managers.
We took a leap and said yes, which led to the creation of our second company Cadenza Artists. It’s a talent agency that now represents over 75 projects across music, dance, and multi-disciplinary performance genres.
We hadn’t set out to create a talent agency but we listened to our clients’ needs and followed our passion, which led to us leading two related companies---something we didn’t imagine back when we entered that competition years ago.
There Is No “Right” Answer
When you’re running a business, you’ll encounter resistance on many levels. When you come up against an obstacle---whether it’s lack of interest, a big investment, or low sales, use the obstacle as a chance to re-evaluate.
Ask yourself: Are these moveable obstacles in my path that I can remove or reshape? Or, am I getting a deep sense that this path isn’t quite right anymore?
Knowing when to abandon an idea and when to refine it can make a huge difference in the success of your business.
Julia Torgovitskaya and Jennifer Rosenfeld are co-founders of iCadenza, which provides career development coaching to musicians and performing artists of all career stages, and Cadenza Artists, an artist management company and talent agency representing over 75 music, dance, and multidisciplinary projects in a wide variety of genres. Get their free guide: 10 Secrets to Positive Self-Promotion.