Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Slow Startup Movement. An introduction...

The Slow Startup Movement

A Field Guide to Organizing and Launching Your Own Small Enterprise on Your Terms, With Little Risk and Less Money.

An introduction….

Let's start with the economic crisis. My ideas are meant to offer a little self-defense and hope to those of us who would like to get more control over our financial lives, more security in our commercial lives, and more enjoyment in our personal lives.

There are any number of approaches that can work to help you launch your own enterprise. I want to talk about one of those paths that I think fits these times and people's aspirations perfectly. I've also seen them work over a lifetime of entrepreneurship.

This awful economic environment is changing the entrepreneurial landscape rapidly. I would suggest that what has happened to economies across the world will make it increasingly viable and even necessary to create your own small enterprise.

Running to the bank for a loan or raising money from outside investors will certainly continue for a few, but for the vast majority of startups, those tools are just not available.

Rather than give up on the thought, I suggest we get busy. Slowly. It helps me to think of it as the slow startup movement.

The TV and movies push images of entrepreneurs as manic speedy-commerce freaks. This has its roots, but those kind of enterprises often cause as many problems as they solve.

There was a good book out a few years ago called 'The Millionaire Next Door' by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. What was so eye-catching about their study is that people with significant (actual) personal resources and security were not those best skilled at surfing bubbles, but were average people, that started small and carefully grew their businesses slowly over time. They lived below their means. They accumulated real security over time.

A garden is an obvious metaphor. A garden we plant ourselves. A garden we learn to grow. A garden of things we love. A garden whose journey is every bit as valuable as its outcome. A garden that can positively change our self-worth and increase security for our families. A garden that makes our communities stronger.

What in the heck could planting a tiny economic plot of your own do to change things?

The idea of Victory Gardens come to mind.

Think of starting your own enterprise as starting your own small garden. You start carefully. You plan. You nurture the garden, and you grow stronger, wiser and more valuable personally during the process. The work in the garden and the fruits of the garden make you and your community more sustainable and secure.

Here's what Michael Pollin just wrote in a great piece in the Oct. 9 New York Times Magazine, entitled 'Farmer In Chief'. It's an open letter to the next President about our food policies seen as a national security issue, among many other valuable perspectives.

"When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America." (My note - these are results achieved in 2 years as a result of contributions made by millions of tiny contributors.)

So what does this have to do with a slow startup movement?

I've borrowed the gist of the term from the slow foods movement. Do you know it? The premise is take control of your food life. Use local foods and high quality resources. Strive for creating value and improving your life. Strive for an enjoyment of the process for savoring the results. Strive to share those results with friends and your communities in ways that make all involved stronger and more viable.

Gardening and cooking are iterative steps. Things don't always go the way you want. It takes time to get started. To do it right, it takes flexibility and creativity and most of all patience.

This is also the recipe for starting small, sustainable enterprises.

You use simple, high quality ingredients. You add your creativity and skill, and most of all patience, and you slowly create nourishing results.

This is not to say that many of these slow startups will not become sprinters, or gazelles as they are referred to in economic development circles. For those with appropriate offerings in the right markets, this is something to encourage. But a recent US Small Business Administration analysis of the gazelles notes that these firms don't get to the place they can sprint until they have in the market for a number of years, and have made their mistakes, and have polished their model, and organized appropriately for the time in their life cycle that they can take off like gazelles.

You don't start as a gazelle. You start as a gardener, nurturing what's good, weeding out what works against success.

That's the essence of the slow startup movement idea. Put yourself in the game. Find something you love and nurture it. Find the help and the resources to grow your seedlings. Take your time. Observe. Test. Fail. Rejigger. Repeat.

You can do it my friend. Like the Victory Gardens of World War II, we need to do it given the state of things.

The slow startup movement is a kind of commerce that you can follow to increase your own security, engage your creativity, and build the communities you live in.

Dig in, my friend. You can do it. Now is the time to start.

New York Times 'Open Letter to the Next Farmer In Chief'.

Overview of the book, The Millionaire Next Door, at WIkipedia

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