By David MacLaren, an EO Vancouver member and President and CEO of MediaValet, Inc.
When a traffic light turns yellow, there’s a split second where your brain and your gut will pull you in opposing directions. Your brain screams “brake” while your gut says “gun it.” It’s the same when it comes to your business decisions. At those crucial moments, you need to know when to go with your gut and gun it, and when to brake for reason.
In 2000, I founded VRX Studios, a global photography company for the travel and hospitality industry. A decade later, we were struggling operationally under 20 terabytes of high-definition media assets. We weren’t focusing on what we do well— taking photos. So, we created our own digital asset management system (DAMS) that could meet our specific needs. Over the following three years, companies began to take an interest in our system. Against sound advice, I decided to put my foot on the pedal and gun it. I separated the two companies, sold VRX Studios and focused my time on the DAMS project.
It’s been an adventure since I made that crucial decision, and I’m still not sure what the future holds. That said, we’ve raised a round of financing, we’re growing at breakneck speed and we’re much closer to profitability. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but over those 24 months, the valuation of our new company went from zero to US$20 million— and we’re just getting started. As the founder of any successful startup knows, if I would have ignored my gut and listened to other people’s advice, I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. So, how do you know when to ignore common sense and go for it? In the spirit of my driving analogy, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Look Outside Your Windshield
Each of us experiences a unique view of the world. If I had listened to others, I would have probably grown my first company’s customer base by 5,000 over the next few years. Instead, I saw a bigger opportunity. I realized VRX Studios wasn’t my business. It had taken its own path— and that path wasn’t mine. Once I realized this, making the decision to spin off our DAMS project and create MediaValet was easy. I felt an excitement and joy that I hadn’t felt in years. When we get too rigid and focus solely on our original business plan, we forget to look for new opportunities and are more likely to slam on the brakes. Don’t get me wrong, we all still want to drive our business and point it in the right direction. Just remember to listen to your business, customers and colleagues, and always keep your eyes open— you never know what’s coming around the corner.
Don’t Stop in the Intersection
You can’t let your passengers out of the car in an intersection; they could be seriously injured. In the same way, you can’t spin out a business idea before it has a chance to show its stuff. It takes time to see if an idea has what it takes to survive by itself. That means you need solid evidence that there’s actually a market for your product, that you’ve priced it correctly, that you can build it to meet the needs of the market, that you can attract the right team and that ultimately, you can sell your product or service. This might take a few months, or in our case, several years. But when an idea grows its own legs, gun it! Whether you follow it or not, it’s another choice to make, and this time, it might be a bigger one.
It’s Time to Gun It
When your gut says gun it, I say slam on the accelerator and go for it. But you need to commit 100% of your time and energy, or the risks increase exponentially. In my case, MediaValet is now a year old. I’m loving life because I took a risk and saw it through. I feel like I’m making a difference to marketing teams around the world, and I’m thankful I still listen to my gut regularly. As entrepreneurs, I think we should always listen to what our projects are telling us. After all, they could be signaling big change.
David MacLaren is an EO Vancouver member and the founder and CEO of MediaValet, a cloud-based, digital asset management company. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org.