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Blazing New Trails [Entrepreneurship
Posted on March 27, 2020 @ 10:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I started working on this blog before the corona virus pandemic took over the news cycle. The irony of discussing trail blazing when we are supposed to self-isolate in our homes prevented me from posting this blog. As time has gone on, however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are blazing new trails at an astounding rate to deal with covid.

I have retained elements of the original blog and made some updates to address the current situation.

When I go for a walk I like to walk beside a river. Since I've known this walking area there has been a lightly used ATV trail running the length of the forested part of the trail. I recently created a short detour off this ATV trail into a grove of 5 mature apple trees that I am calling the Apple River Loop. Today I created the Riverside Loop by clearing a few small trees to make it easier to access the river from the Apple River Loop.


Clearing away dead branches and alders to access the river.

My experiences with blazing physical trails has inspired me to examine the ways in which starting and growing a business is like "trail blazing" which it has often been compared to.

Trail Systems

When building a trail you are not starting from scratch. At the very least, there is usually some trail that got you to the place and some destination you would like to hook up to, which might be another trail. So building a trail involves first appreciating that the trail exists within a larger trail system, and an awareness of how the proposed trail fits into the system of trails. Blazing new trails consists of creating linkages between existing trails.

If a big industrial business shuts down, we see the ripple effects through the various small businesses that supported that industrial business. There are business trails running between the large industrial player and various smaller players that were part of a business ecosystem. Part of starting and building a business is developing business trails between your business and other businesses (b2b) and to consumers (b2c). The paths are not always as direct as we would like them to be and may involve alot of business to government (b2g) interactions before you can blaze b2c or b2b trails.

Community is another type of linkage. Because we are already using c for consumer, we will use the letter o to stand for community, or more generally, an organization. So b2o linkages are another type of linkage a business can blaze.

A business might be conceptualized as the sum of its b2b, b2c, b2g, and b2o linkages.

Starting and growing a business involves blazing b2b, b2c, b2g, b2o linkages. Revenue growth may be a proxy for the number and/or quality of linkages a business is able to create. In contrast, we see revenue decline when the number and/or quality of linkages decreases.

Virtual Trails

Up until a few weeks ago, I was immersed in walking the physical trail. That changed when I purchased a used Garmin GPS unit last weekend. Now I observe my progress along the virtual trail appearing on my GPS screen as I walk the physical trail. This virtual trail exists within a different space than my physical trail as it incorporates different information about my surroundings than my immediate senses alone can tell me (e.g., location of roads, train tracks, water, elevations, contours, etc..).

When our business goes online it is a new process of trail blazing to get your online business noticed as a point of interest. New online trails need to be blazed to get traffic to your online business. If you are an existing physical business, online trails to your offline b2b, b2c, b2g and b2o contacts are probably the first virtual trails to forge. If you want your online business to contribute to ongoing growth you will need to formulate a strategy to get beyond your current offline network. There are many techniques that marketers have proposed to do this but one technique relevant to this trail blazing discussion is the use of mapping technologies.

Mapping Technologies

Ubiquitous GPS enabled smart phones and other devices are changing the face of what mapping is and what it can do. Mapping technologies are evolving at a rapid rate and it may be a good use of time to study what is out there, what might be happening next, and how you might take advantage of it for your business. One way of taking advantage of mapping is to ensure that your business is a point of interest on maps that are widely used to navigate your local area - google maps, openstreetmap, here.com, etc... Another way to take advantage of mapping technology is to use it to offer a new service. For example, one of the reasons I purchased the GPS unit was to create trail maps for walkers and cyclists around our farm property and beyond. In this case, mapping allows me to offer a potentially useful service to guests wanting to experience the local area by foot or bicycle. At the same time, maps can be used as a marketing tool online if it proves to be of value to local and online audiences. Ultimately, my hope is these maps create some economic activity on the farm (e.g., sell wine, rent bikes).

As your startup or existing business blazes new trails, you may want to utilize mapping technologies to develop new understandings, to offer new services, to connect in new ways, and to create instructional, marketing, and management assets for your business.

Basecamp

The idea of a basecamp is popular in the GPS world. Basecamp is the location from which you venture out to explore new trails. As we plan how we will re-emerge from the situation we currently find ourselves in, it might be useful to imagine that your startup or business as a basecamp from which you need to (re)blaze trails to the consumer (b2c), other businesses (b2b), other organizations (b2o), and the government (b2g). Some of those new trails will be in the offline world, but increasingly we are having to create new trails in the online world. For example, many musicians have taken to instagram live to stay connected to their audiences. Many businesses have turned to using zoom stay in touch with remote workers and to manage the business. Navigating the business landscape is going to be challenging for awhile as the current trail system is dominated by temporary b2g linkages (i.e., government supports). There needs to be a plan, however, to open up existing trails with new precautions and forge ahead in promising new directions. I wish you and your businesses well as you venture out again from basecamp along existing and newly blazed trails.

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