The Agile Startup Week 6: Building the Bridge as You Walk On It

Note: The Strategic Agility Institute is following GILD Collective, a startup in the crafting industry, as it goes through a nationally recognized startup accelerator. Check out previous posts to get up to speed on this project. 

One of the ways that we can start to understand the complexity of organizational life is through metaphors. And one of my favorite metaphors to describe the reality of leading through uncertainty is “building the bridge as you walk on it,” which comes from a good book by the same name that I’ve used as part of teaching a course on managing organizational change. 

When we’re involved with a rapidly shifting landscape, we must move ahead while at the same time creating the path forward. This lack of structure and presence of potentially befuddling ambiguity can frustrate even the best of leaders. In a startup, entrepreneurs are by definition creating something that has not previously existed, so that ambiguity is everywhere.

The GILD Collective team—which has now finished its sixth week as members of the Cincinnati-based startup accelerator The Brandery—seems to be experiencing the reality of building a bridge while walking upon it right now. The team is continuing to book more crafting parties and build their core business, but they’re also looking down the road and trying to evaluate their business model and strategy. Like most business leaders, they’re having to work “in” their business—which for them means trying to acquire new customers and delight current ones—while having to also work “on” their business—ensuring that they’re heading in the right direction financially. 

Some highlights from this past week include: 

  • Consistent inquiries and attention. They’re continuing to get increasing numbers of people wanting to know more about hosting crafting parties. The tricky part, of course, is to convert as many of those as possible into party bookings. 
  • Business model scenario planning. The team is intentionally looking at the next 10 weeks that they have at The Brandery and determining how they can maximize that experience. As alluded to above, they’re also exploring ways to ensure that the long-term vision for their venture is one that is financially sustainable. 
  • Hosting a crafting party outside, in Cincinnati’s Washington Park. See the photos below to get a peek at some of the handiwork. 

This week, the team perceived higher levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). This is likely due to their re-evaluation of their business model and emphasis on strategic planning. It can be comfortable to not think about the future and to take for granted that things will simply “work out.” Many business leaders, unfortunately, do that. But that’s not productive, and the GILD Collective team recognizes that they must confront their VUCA head on. 

Here are the summaries of their ratings of each VUCA element. 

As in previous weeks, the team is continuing to learn from everything around them, and they’re currently focusing on setting a path for the near-future.  

Although the next 10 weeks does not sound like a long time, in startup time that’s probably equivalent to a year in a slower-paced environment. So the team will likely be wrestling through their options and thinking about how to capitalize on the best of what’s working right now while incorporating a model that will work for the long-term. 

Be sure to check back in next week for another update from GILD Collective as they navigate the VUCA world of startups. 

About GILD Collective
GILD Collective is the brainchild of three friends—Kelsey Pytlik, Rachel Bauer McCreary and Jessie Deye. It’s a business focused on crafting, which happens to be about a $29 billion industry. GILD Collective seeks to join that industry by offering instructor-led craft parties, in which customers will pick the project, location and participants. GILD Collective will bring the supplies and expertise, allowing party participants to explore their creative sides and make something with their own hands. For more information, visit: www.gildcollective.com

About The Strategic Agility Institute™
The Strategic Agility Institute™ (SAI) is a collaborative, global effort dedicated to the production and communication of agility-focused knowledge. We're building a community founded upon a common interest in helping people and organizations become agile and thrive in the face of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. For more information, visit: www.strategicagilityinstitute.com