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Want Hyper Hockey Stick Growth? You Must First Endure The Blade...

Stashed in: Startups, 106 Miles, Growth Hacks!, @zappos

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Nick Hughes wrote in January 2012:

As fascinating as the hockey stick growth can be, something intriguing happens immediately before the growth period. Not talked about because it’s not as sexy, Something must be happening before the massive uptick in usage or the uptick wouldn’t happen at all.

So what is it?

I call it the blade. As you can see, the hockey stick on the right has a flat section (the blade), an angle (the inflection point), and the rising handle (growth phase). The blade is the most critical point for any startup because if they get over it alive they move on to the crazy hockey stick growth phase.

First we must survive. Then we must thrive.

Blades require HEAT:

When referring about a hockey stick, deciding on a blade may be one of the most important decisions a hockey player can make.  The makeup of a hockey stick blade will determine how durable it is and how much stress it can withstand.  A blade — the bottom portion of a hockey stick that may be curved or straight — can help determine the way a player is able to control a hockey puck.  Wood blades today are frequently covered with a composite material, such as Kevlar. Kevlar is a strong, fiber substance that is designed to be used in high stress situations.

Being made of composite, hockey stick blades are malleable and can be shaped to a players advantage.  All it takes is heat.  When a player heats a blade, they can curve it and shape it to their liking.

As if you didn’t know… startups are situations of ridiculously high stress and immense pressure.  It’s almost like you sign up saying ”let’s see how hot it can actually get.”  As part of a startup, you are trying to create the most with the least amount of money, which leads to tremendous financial heat.  You feel heat trying to force the product down people’s throats, working towards product market fit. The pressure is on to prove a specific customer for your product before time runs out.  Lots of late nights, pivots, redesigns and tough conversations will create friction and heat amongst the team.

The blade period – the period of time after launch but before massive usage growth – is one of the most challenging times a team can go through.  Yet, therein lies the test.  The blade test for a startup team involves a number of points: to observe reality that the product is not an overnight hit, listen to feedback, watch available usage metrics, identify what is working and what isn’t, agree on changes to be made, make the changes, reposition the product, polish the messaging and many many others.

The key is to do all this without losing your mind and going crazy.

This situation is extremely difficult for a young team to get through, and that is why most startups don’t make it.  Failed startups don’t ever get to the position of hockey stick growth because they could manage the heat on the blade.   It’s like a right of passage. Show me a (successful) company that did not get over the blade.  The only way to get from launch to hockey stick growth is to get through the heat and over the blade.

The key is to do all this without losing your mind and going crazy.

The blade is a fact of startup life:

Although any founder or early employee will tell you growth is what they are looking for, the times on the blade is are always the ones the remember the most. Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO recalls the early days when they almost didn’t make it…. many times over in his book Delivering Happiness. It’s a great read for any startup founder or early employee, as he re-lives all the challenging (and fun) times Zappos endured. You can almost feel the sharpness and heat of the blade they got over.

Microsoft co-founder and fellow Seattle resident Paul Allen spends the majority of his book recalling the Early days of Microsoft, the struggles and challenges they faced on the blade. I was not aware of all the times he and Bill were scared, feeling little hope for the future of their company. Can you imagine Paul Allen or Bill Gates fretting over $100? But… we all know the rest of the story. I’m just glad they went through it at one time in their life as well!

So the blade is a fact of startup life. The only questions are: how much heat can you take? What will you do to shorten it so you can get on with growing your company? And what crazy stories will you be telling when you do make it over the blade?

How much heat can you take, and what will you do to shorten the blade?

Good questions for anyone thinking about starting a company.

The blade period is also the most memorable time of one's career. Looking back, that's when you learn the most & fastest.

Bonnie, that's true.

So why do I always feel so rushed to want to leave the blade and get to the hockey stick?

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