By Frank Brodie, Wharton MBA 2014; Co-Founder, Maculens
I’ve quickly discovered that an entrepreneurial endeavor that sounds sexy and successful when explained in 30 seconds over a beer can be far from it. This past year I worked on a new startup, Maculens, which produces an optical coating that reduces discomfort and glare from oncoming headlights at nighttime. There’s a little science involved but it’s not rocket science, and the revenue model is a lot more straightforward than social-anything; we make product and then sell product.
In this process we received constant and conflicting advice from opticians, experienced retailers, industry experts, venture capitalists, angel investors, our professors, our friends — even my mother put her two cents in.
We would try out new ideas and quickly become encouraged or discouraged by early results. Even when a bold plan was outlined, the original planning was abandoned within a few meetings as new ideas populated our conversations and opportunities arose. Over the last nine months our product development has swung wildly from exploring licensing deals to market testing in doctors’ offices to creating a specialized sports product. Each member of our team could be influenced by different sources and those that spoke loudest could often drive the project in their preferred direction.
This is not to say that we’ve wasted time or that we haven’t made progress — Maculens has made incredible strides over the last year and we’re very excited about the year to come. However, I wonder if we were too easily swayed by our own machinations. The big question is: in the face of new data, how do you know when to persevere or when to pivot?
We are still deep in the midst of figuring out the answer for Maculens, but I have some new principles that I’m trying to keep in mind as we move forward:
1) What’s the cost?
We don’t have unlimited time, energy or money. Each new meeting, pitch, test, prototype or design costs some of each. Before committing to something, we have an honest discussion of the costs involved and ask ourselves if this is the right way to go.
2) What does success look like?
What will it mean if this project/test/idea/pitch works out? Does it bring us meaningful progress? Are there alternatives for getting there?
3) Why are we pivoting?
Going for something new usually means turning away from something old. Why are we giving up on it? Do we have enough data to say that it’s not worth pursuing? Has it actually become irrelevant or are we just getting lazy/bored/antsy?
All these questions seem obvious when written out in black and white, but the answers can yield some real insight into the evolution of your business strategy. And they can be far from obvious in the excitement of the moment.
We owe our deepest gratitude to the Wharton community for their unwavering support and patience as we have presented them with these questions and quandaries.
Bio: Frank is a 5th year student in the MD/MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania. He founded Maculens along with another MBA student and two physicians. They recently won second place in the Wharton Business Plan Competition and are members of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program. This summer Frank received a Wharton Venture Award to focus on his startup full time.