Entrepreneurial and Business Lessons from CitiBike NYC

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This is a post about what happens when you have a new idea and want to run with it. It could be a new company, a new way of doing things in your office, or even a way to save time by eliminating TPS reports for something more efficient. The point is, I’m talking about how to deal with people who hate change.

People who hate change love the status quo. Change scares them. Change is dangerous to them, because it requires them to do things differently, and that’s hard. Let’s face it, lots of people like the status quo because it doesn’t require them to do anything new, and it doesn’t require them to leave their comfort zone. The comfort zone is called that for a reason, because it’s comfortable. But you know by now, that being comfortable means that nothing new and life-changing ever happens.

So when CitiBike NYC was announced, half of NYC was all like “Cool!” and half of NYC was all like “This is the worst thing ever, it’s going to destroy us and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters is going to show up and kill us.”

But Bloomberg did his Bloomberg-like magic, and sure enough, NYC joins other major, forward-thinking cities and now has a bike-share plan. And guess what? By the end of the first week, over 10,000 trips had been taken on CitiBikes, and there’s currently a huge wait for membership approvals, due to the overwhelming popularity of the program. Personally, I love it – I’ve taken over twenty trips in the past week and a half, and have used the subway exactly twice. I’ve already covered the yearly CitiBike NYC fee in the money I’ve saved on subways and cabs, and I’ve been using the program for less than two weeks!

So… What can we learn from this?

1) There will always be people who are going to hate your idea! Just accept this as fact, get over it, and move on. And here’s something even more important: LOTS of people are going to hate your idea! And they’ll be INCREDIBLY vocal about telling you how much they do! In fact, some people spend the majority of their free time finding ways to tell other people they’ve never met about how much they hate an idea. GET OVER IT. There will always be people who choose to rain on your parade because they can’t make their own sunshine. If you believe in what you’re doing, KEEP DOING IT. HATERS ARE NEVER A REASON TO QUIT. If Bloomberg had quit this project because of the haters, I wouldn’t be able to get from 9th Ave and 42nd to 1st Ave and 64th in eleven minutes.

2) That said, find three people you trust, I mean, REALLY trust, and listen to them. REALLY listen to them. Both the good and the bad. And don’t fight with them. Don’t tell them why they’re wrong and you’re right.  If you really trust their opinions, (because they’re mentors, and you’re smart enough to have a mentor or two,) then hear them, and make changes as needed. Unlike haters, these three people you really trust really DO want you to succeed, so when they give you honest feedback, TAKE IT. Trust me – Even someone as successful as Bloomberg had mentors at one point, and most certainly still has trusted advisors. All the most successful people do.

3) Expect glitches, mistakes, and initial problems. But know they’re learning experiences, and not reasons to quit. A small percentage of CitiBike docks don’t work. They don’t accept returning bikes, and people don’t know if their bike is marked as “returned,” or if they’re going to get charged. So they have to park somewhere else for the first two weeks. Glitches happen with a new idea, but GLITCHES GET FIXED AND LEAD TO BETTER PROGRESS. Don’t let glitches stop you, but make sure you learn from the glitches and fix them ASAP.

4) Keep your ear to the ground! Make sure you have ways for the first people who use your product to contact you, they’re going to be your best advisors and tell you about your first problems. And not only should you listen, but you should respond and make these people YOUR BEST FRIENDS. I can’t vouch that CitiBike NYC is actually doing this, since I’ve tweeted them a few times and have yet to hear back, but think about it: If a customer is taking a chance on you and talking about you before the masses are, wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to pull this first-mover over to your side? Reach out to EVERYONE who talks about you in any capacity in the beginning, whether good or bad. Good, thank them and reach out privately to reward them. Bad, reach out publicly and ask them to contact you privately so you can continue the conversation, fix what they believe is wrong (if it is,) and then reward them when it’s fixed. Trust me: When you fix a first-mover-user’s problem and they know it, they’ll go out of their way to promote you. It’s how you turn users to believers to customers who will take a bullet for you. And that’s what you want.

As I write this, I’m sitting here drying out from a hot 9 minute ride from my apartment to my office. It would have taken longer by subway. Instead, I got a little exercise, burned off an egg white or two, and got a jolt of endorphins. None of which would have happened if Bloomberg had listened to the haters.

Any other lessons one can learn from CitiBike NYC? Leave them in the comments. And thanks for reading!

Spiral out. Keep going.

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