It’s unlikely that new business formation was on Sir Isaac Newton’s mind when he wrote the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, yet Sir Isaac’s three laws of motion can teach those of us in the entrepreneurial ecosystem more than a thing or two about the mechanics of creating a startup that gains traction and grows.
Consider Sir Isaac’s first law: An object will remain at a constant velocity unless it is forced to change by external force.
This law of inertia has two parts:
- If something is standing still and there’s no external force, that something will remain standing still.
- If that something is moving, and there’s no change is external force, that something will continue the same momentum in a straight line.
Of course, as every entrepreneur knows, in the world of startup companies, there is never an absence of external force.
An entrepreneurial corollary #1 to Sir Isaac’s first law is that no startup company will ever stand still.
Startups move forward, backward, or sideways, but remaining stationary isn’t an option—at least not for more than a nanosecond.
Not only is external force perpetual, the external forces that buffet a startup constantly shift and change.
Those shifts can be good. A long-courted customer places that all-important first purchase order. The FDA approves a Phase II clinical trial. That software engineer the company has been trying to hire for three months finally says yes.
Or not so good. The new chemical that was developed can’t be effectively and efficiently scaled. That software engineer accepts a better offer from a competitor. The iPhone app that was 30 days away from product launch suddenly develops a glitch…or someone beat them with an app of their own.
So a second entrepreneurial corollary to Sir Isaac’s first law is that no startup company will ever continue on a straight line. But it’s those pivots and changes that make you viable and sustainable.
Startup companies are nearly impossible to predict. You don’t know what’s going to hit you tomorrow, much less in a month. There are lots of zigs and zags before you ever reach the hockey stick curve.
That’s why the most successful entrepreneurs think in scenarios.
- They imagine as many outcomes—favorable and not– as possible. Newton had hypotheses and so do entrepreneurs. It’s called the business case.
- Like Newton, successful entrepreneurs aren’t afraid of the “No’s.” No’s are ok. “No’s” save time, money, and move an entrepreneur toward “Yes.” That “yes” may be within the current business or in the next. The best entrepreneurs are prepared to find the “no’s.” They seek them out. Often. Repeatedly. They know that it is better to identify a “no” on day 20 than on day 420.
- They create the minimally viable product as quickly as possible test their business hypothesis. If Newton was alive today, he would say that a good hypothesis is clear, simple, and one that uses the straightforward “experiments” of customer feedback, scalability, and functionality to test the business case.
- They aim for milestones that reduce risk.
- They create a portfolio of contingency plans.
- They remain flexible and coachable, asking mentors, board members, other entrepreneurs, and customers for unbiased, straightforward advice.
Sir Isaac, who survived abandonment by his mother, lived through the Bubonic plague, explained gravity and convinced the scientific world of his day that light is composed of particles, not rays, wasn’t exactly a charmer.
In fact, people didn’t like him very much.
Yet his three universal laws of motion enabled the Industrial Revolution and continue to provide a foundation for much of the science in today’s high tech world.
That’s the kind of external force entrepreneurship welcomes and needs!