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The one where Ross tries to move a couch

On a recent event with Robot Mascot, I was asked: “has the COVID pandemic changed the type of company Black Nova would back?” To which I gave a resounding No, because we would never want to lower the calibre of Founder we look for. But it’s not that simple.


I balanced this out by saying that we have seen a rise in businesses switching focus, or looking at different routes to market that have demonstrated their adaptability and increased their resilience. And then I used a word which I’ve tried to avoid using. “If a business has switched ideas or pivoted…”


Pivot. Damn. This year has created a swathe of words that have been so burned out, they’ve lost all meaning. Words that I will not be using in 2021 include; unprecedented, lockdown, pandemic (hopefully…) and pivot. 


In the world of startups, the word pivot has been paraded around as the thing to do. If you weren’t pivoting your business model in 2020, were you even a startup? To me it’s fallen foul of buzzword fatigue, where a saying gets picked up and used constantly, to the detriment of what it’s actually describing. It becomes a marketing term and doesn’t do justice to businesses going through unprecedented (damn…) change. 


Instead, when talking about businesses changing to meet demands, I try to use a word which owes its roots to evolution; Adapt. Afterall; it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” In one sentence Charles Darwin perfectly captures the struggle that businesses have had to go through this year, rather than dressing it up with a buzzword.


Businesses that adapt constantly are the ones that survive. Businesses that don’t get left behind. The recent news of Arcadia Group struggling is testament to that. At the extreme end of the scale, tech firms like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon etc have ruthlessly adapted to their environment. When Amazon transformed from purely an online book store, to an eCommerce platform, I don’t remember anyone saying they ‘pivoted’. They were adapting to the changing world of online commerce and the growth of the internet. When Apple began launching phones with touch screens, they weren’t ‘pivoting’, they were enabling users to consume digital media faster and with reduced friction. Microsoft has continually evolved it’s suite of tools to meet the changing needs of workforces globally, not a pivot in sight. 


As startups go through life they inevitably hit hurdles. The combined effort it takes a team to recognise a problem, put together a solution, and then adapt and overcome that challenge is remarkable. Here’s a list of companies that did some really cool shit to adapt this year (excuse the title…):


I speak from first hand experience of knowing how hard it is to adapt a business. A little known fact that apart from my work with Black Nova, I also Co-own a restaurant with my partner. We launched in August, and haven’t had a day’s trading without some form of restriction in place, whether it’s reduced trading hours, social distancing, or having to operate as a takeaway temporarily. In 3 months we’ve gone through more change than we expected to go through in 3 years. But the restrictions have forced our hand, and made us think of ways to stay relevant and succeed. Nothing sparks creativity like having a strict set of rules to play by, and things have gone well all things considered. 


But they say you always remember the bad reviews, not the good ones. We had our first bad review the other day for our takeaway service. A delay caused it to be late and the food was cold, this particular customer was not happy and verbalised it online.


For a second, the red mist descended. “Have they got any idea the amount of effort and problem solving that’s had to happen to get that delivery to them?! We’ve had to shift our entire business model. The amount of processes we’ve had to change, and challenges we’ve had to overcome. I can’t beli….” At which point my Partner, cool as a cucumber, cut me off: “The customer doesn’t care Alex. They paid for a service and they want the best, so our processes need to get better, right now, so that doesn’t happen again.” I may or may not have sulked for a minute or two (or twelve) before realising the error in my thinking. 


Find a way to deliver a better customer service within the rules of the game, or get out of the way. Adapt and overcome, or shut up Alex. 


So whatever challenges your business has gone through this year, don’t be tempted to say you pivoted. You did much more than that. You adapted and you overcame. I hope it’s enabled you to survive and connect with your customers in a different way during these… (don’t say it, DON’T SAY IT….) unprecedented times. 


And if the title doesn’t make sense, here you go;

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