I was watching episode 32 of This Week in Startups, and an entrepreneur called in about his Mac tech support business, looking for ways to get more customers. Jason Calacanis and his guest George Naspo suggested things like sending out press releases, running an A/B test of the web site, and using social media. The entrepreneur said that he'd tried those things, but they hadn't worked. He sounded frustrated and seemed to be looking for something magic that would solve his problems.
I've been in similar situations before: You're doing what the experts say, and it's just not working. For example, when I was doing a job search out of graduate school, I remember going to a workshop on job-search techniques. I told the leader that I'd tried her tips but they weren't working, so what now? Her response was to keep trying them. My conclusion from that was that if experts tell you to do things you're already doing, you're probably doing the right thing and should continue (unless you can think of a better way), even if it's frustrating.
Entrepreneurs often have this problem when they're trying to get PR (public relations, aka free press). If you've developed a great iPhone app, how do you let people know about it when there are 140,000 others? Getting a popular blogger to review your app is one of the best kinds of PR marketing, but it's not easy convincing bloggers to write about you. So you'll have to contact quite a few of them.
While Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," sometimes the best path is continuing to try a similar technique with the next person on your list. Whether looking for press for your iPhone app, a job, or even a spouse, sometimes it's a numbers game: You just have to persevere until you find the right one, perhaps tweaking your approach based on past results.
It reminds me of learning the crow pose in yoga. It's a balancing position where you get down on your hands and knees, then balance your knees on your elbows. Try it -- on soft carpet or a yoga mat! Here's what happened when I tried it:
- The first time I fell forward onto my head. (Unless you have great balance already, this is what will probably happen to you.) It was a fairly slow fall onto my forehead, and I was using a yoga mat, so it really didn't hurt.
- The next 19 times I tried it, I fell.
- Then the 20th time, I stayed up for a split-second before I fell. It might not even have been long enough for anyone watching to notice, but I could tell I was almost balancing.
- Then the 25th time, I stayed up for a couple seconds.
- Eventually, I could stay up for as long as my wrists could support me. Success!
I couldn't tell you what it was that I adjusted or learned to be able to do the crow. So when people ask me to show them how to do it, I just show them my starting position and encourage them to keep trying until they figure it out for themselves.
After I mastered it, the crow became my favorite pose. When I showed people it, they looked at me balancing and said, "I could never do that." I said, "Neither could I the first 25 times I tried it. You have to be willing to fall, see that it's not going to hurt you, and keep trying."
Of course, even after you "master" some skills, you won't be successful all the time. For example, if you're hoping to get PR for your new Android game, not every blogger or journalist is going to respond to your emails. So you've got to be realistic about what rate of success you can expect and not give up if you don't succeed 100% of the time.