Hope Is Not A Strategy

It’s a Twister! A Twister! ~Wizard of Oz

Almost 20 years ago with shaggy hair, side burns and old shoes, I looked like a time traveling detective from a 70’s crime drama in the year of our Lord 2003. Unbeknownst to me, being a professional musician for 10 years prior had afforded me many start up and entrepreneurial lessons. Starting a band (kind of like partners), creating music and getting it to the market (product development, marketing and sales), performance (drinking) and of course music agents, music managers and record deals (negotiation, leadership, strategy, employment, planning and more drinking until blackout).

Like a failed brand though, there was no path to viability. You could hear us saying in band meetings held at Musician’s Conference Rooms or what we all know as Bars “When we are famous, I hope we will _______”. We would place eggs into a basket, put our fingers in our ears, say “lalalalalala” and hope for the best. There was no strategy. We would find a manager and agents of musician-y stuff so we could create our music… then everything would be fine… work itself out. This would go on for years and years for me and millions of musicians. We hoped for the best.

In March amidst a pandemic and almost 20 years removed from any of those Musician Conference Room decisions, I found myself surrounded with “smarter” people than me sticking their fingers in their ears saying, “I mean we don’t know what will ultimately happen but this is temporary, it will magically go away. When we reopen again, everything will be fine, let’s hope for the curve to be on a downward trend and hope for the best. We are doing a great job.”

I heard this over and over again. Would nod slowly. Then die a little inside.

I have never… let me repeat this… never been so certain of something in my life as I was in March. No, things would not get better soon. How were things going to get better? Also, it just wouldn’t be just this, right? We would have to do other things to stop whatever was happening. I mean, how do you just turn off this economic faucet? Then turn it on? When it gets “better” does “better” mean things would look different on the other side? Who was in charge here?

Do you hear how insane that sounds from a strategy and certainty standpoint? It’s wrought with complete generalizations. Like a general in a war room giving a command: “Ok hit them here, here, and here.”

Someone raises their hand in the back. “With what sir, we are the Peace Corps.”

“Peace Corps?! Dammit, well goddammit, hit ’em with everything you got DAMMIT”. Then he storms out of the room. 50 hippies plan to just “be there for everyone”. Send in the hippies, Sarge!

Say I open a business selling widgets. My business isn’t doing well so I apply for a loan. My widget is a cartoonish-like, big red boxing glove that sits on a platform with a blinking red button. Every time you push the button, it punches you in the face or the balls if you have them. I go to the bank, fill out a loan application form, sign it with a signature that looks like I killed a bug on the page then hand it to the loan professional.

He would lean back on his chair. His name is Mr Cares-Act. (Hyphenated name, mom and dad divorced) He’s a big, stupid, balding, burly stereotypical dopey white man in his fifties, suspenders, giant belly and with a cigar in his mouth. He’d make it look like he’s reading it then say, “100k. How will you pay me the money back?”

I would say, “Well I hope to sell a lot of widgets and turn this thing around! I think people need a good slap in the face these days!”

He leans forward quickly, stamps the loan application and says “Kid, you got it. Go get em, I hope you get there.”

He gives me money. Doesn’t know how I will pay it back. Doesn’t know if I need it. He has zero numbers on what our market looks like, zero strategy, zero nothing. Just a thing that punches you in the face. Or the nuts, whatever you prefer. #Innovation

For a bank, hope is not a strategy. They want reassurance they will get their money back and a reasonable return on their investment.

Generalized Statement Alert: When any entrepreneurial lad or lass sets out to make a place in the world, there is a plan. Even a half-baked plan. But there is one… and most times they are changing the plan constantly. There is also a bunch of people that will buy their widgets with certainty. These are people that are ok with getting punched in the face-balls.

EVEN MORE IMPORTANT is the vision. When I set out to do something I can see it materializing before me. I can see the customers, see the potential, see everything. I then plan it out and have a direction.

Back to March 2020 and the lockdown, I saw nothing. A black void. The black void was being filled with sayings on the TV like “V shaped recovery” and “Temporary” and “Slow the Curve” and “Cuomo Has A Nipple Ring” (gross). My first reaction was, you can’t close an economy, it will have ripple effects. What would the ripple effects be for me?

Well… 2 things. One, to prevent the ripple effect for zero revenue and bankruptcy, as in a complete shutdown, I would bring my business online. I had to innovate and felt no one was going to save me. This was plausible and would save my company from complete meltdown… but here is the thing: some people would like it some people would hate it. We would be completely changing how our service was delivered. It’s like as if Amazon were to roll out that drone delivery program immediately and all you saw was millions of drones in the sky. This would frighten some people and for others be no big deal. Aluminum hats and conspiracy theories aside, it’s a huge change in how they deliver.

Or if every car was FORCED to be electric. It would make millions of people angry because there are some old school, die hard grease monkey’s out there. People would choose their sides. Maybe the peasants would revolt.

The market would decide.

And decide they did, almost 40% of our business evaporated. But (surprise!) 56% because of financial and 44% because, well, they didn’t like our offer.

I saw most of this coming in March and made a decision to be strategic. I took whatever remaining cash we had and invested it in an online platform that would revolutionize the business for what I saw for 1 to 2 years of chaos just in case we weren’t going back to normal. This way, we would have the original business model when “normalcy” returned and now a shiny new one. Best part is that the shiny new one would save the business and bring in new customers until “we hoped” for normalcy to return. More importantly, I spent time the past few months looking for a new type of customer.

That’s the important idea here: my old customer may disappear forever. That’s an issue the economy is facing. That customer that felt it was completely safe to drop off their kids at my studio, let the safe environment do its thing and let all the safe things happen? Well there is a certain percentage of people (40%) that do not feel safe coming back!!!!

Oh, what about money you ask? Hmmm, 56% of my customers left for financial reasons? Because 40 million people lost their jobs recently and some of those people may never get their job back, people lost their ability to pay my company for our service! Locally in the NYC area, 1/4 of the deaths in the country have been recorded. Combine that with social unrest, really divided leadership and Governors with nipple rings, we have a mess. So when you look at a local economy that is totally depressed, do you hope that you open up and everything will be back to normal?

No you can’t assume it.

THEN you have the boondoggle of government interference. Now, the right response was to shut the economy down to slow the curve. Initially we thought this was a few weeks. Now three months later: I am still not “allowed” to open. With America’s official “Caught With Our Pants Down” fiscal stimulus and because the federal response has been “leave it to the states”(let’s face it you’d have to suspend the constitution to make a nation stay at home), local governments have had a haphazard response in each state. Locally in the NYC area, we have the hottest of the hotbeds here, so we have a shit sandwich of a response because of the millions of different needs, groups and communities all piled on top of each other. Specifically: Open in phases and when you do, enact specific restrictions. Also: do it at 50% or less capacity until we say and let’s hope this will work for a tad.

Folks, that’s just not sustainable. Most of us didn’t sign up fo this. I surely didn’t when I opened my business. Sadly, many people died in this country because of this predicament. I wanted so bad to trust our leadership in that they knew what they were doing. Jury is out, they were most definitely caught with their pants down and it’s now a trending hashtag on Twitter, one argument after another on Facebook and wonderful fodder for conspiracy idiots.

This is a scary moment that will define a generation. Millennials have now been through 2 major recessions and were dipshits to begin with according to renowned experts like my Dad (ok boomer). My good ole folks: Generation X? We are smoking bongs in the corner, just chilling and waiting for the dust to settle. No biggie, a phone to us is a thing you call people with and play dates are stupid. Go rub some dirt in it, America! Be careful though, don’t get hurt. Wear a helmet America!

Me? I have numbers on my new market, somewhat realistic potential in our plan and a kinda-future. I do not have certainty for my kids (Gen Z) as they go back to school. I looked at my kids the other day as we were at the store. We all had masks on. What were they thinking? Were they ok with this? What will this do to them? What are the adults in the room doing?

We are hoping for a return to normal.

I have news: there will be no normal “soon”. You can’t turn off the water to the hose and hope the liquid to come out immediately after months of non use. The 100 foot line has to fill with water and the trapped air in the line has to be forced out.

Then you remember: Uh oh, I hope I turned the water off from inside the house over the winter… is the line cracked? I hope this works!!

Friends, hope is not a strategy.

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