Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 5 Steps to Making Successful Comebacks - Listen Up RIM

People often ask me:
"VC Whisperer, are comebacks possible?"
The short answer is yes, but not without quite a bit of effort. That question and the following article on Engadget got me thinking about comebacks:

Shareholder calls for RIM to sell itself or its patents, in critical open letter -- Engadget

RIM shareholders are furious, and demanding change. They want to believe in comeback potential for the business, but many are losing hope. Startups are notoriously good at re-inventing themselves and big companies like RIM could learn a thing or two. Only then will they have a chance at making a comeback. Here are the VC Whisperer's 5 steps to making a comeback (and advice that RIM is surely hearing many times over from its shareholders):

  1. Vision. Comebacks often require companies to change direction. And they always require everyone to be moving in the same direction. None of that is possible without a compelling vision being communicated from the top. 
  2. Focus. It's hard to be good at everything. Paring down projects, focusing on strengths, getting scrappy. These are all important to staging a comeback. Focus not only on the high level, but on the nuts and bolts as well. 
  3. Fresh Ideas. Clearly the status quo is not working. That means you need to bring in people with fresh thinking. Or encourage it from your existing employees. Stop worrying about process or "how things are done" here. Throw everything you knew about your business out the window and start with a fresh slate and fresh perspective. Hire MBAs from top tier schools who have crazy ideas and the energy to make them happen. 
  4. Risk-taking. Comebacks often require swinging for the fences, and that's not without risk. It's the homerun plays that will turn a company around. Risk-taking also means sometimes sacrificing a profitable (but declining) business in the short term, to ensure long term success. For publicly traded companies, this is especially difficult, when analysts only care about your next quarter. 
  5. Listen. To what people are saying about your failing business. They might have good ideas. And listen to your customers. They're the ones who are going to fund the comeback. 
What's most interesting to me is these happen to be all the things startups are really good at. Take note RIM, telcos, traditional media, and any other company/industry under fire: Companies in turnaround or comeback situations would be well served to learn from the startup world

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