The Virtue of Limited Resources

by | Funding, Strategy

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting connection between resources (i.e., money) and innovation. The more constrained or limited a startup’s budget, the more innovative they tend to be.

In other words, necessity is the mother of invention.

Some of the most inspiring success stories have come from those who have faced challenges with few resources at their disposal. Vincent van Gogh couldn’t afford to pay models, so he painted flowers and landscapes instead. He became one of the most influential artists of all time.

Judith Lieber — today known the world over for her crystal-embellished luxury metal handbags — had to innovate after her first batch arrived with defective metal plating. To disguise the problem, she bought some Swarovski crystals and jewelers adhesive, and created an entirely new design. They became the most popular bags in her line. In the face of disaster, Judith turned lemons into lemonade.

Limited budgets lead to business breakthroughs.

Some of the most inspiring success stories come from founders who had to make do in situations where money was tight.

When everything is on the line, and there’s less margin for error, you have to think. You have to focus. You have to dig deeper to understand your customers, your market and even your business itself.

Like Vincent van Gogh and Judith Lieber, you have to work with what you’ve got. That’s not always easy, and it’s rarely comfortable, but that’s where breakthroughs take place.

Financial limitations put you in the kind of bind that pushes you to consider all possible directions and paths — not just the ones you’re used to taking or planned on taking or others have taken before you.

Yes, safety nets and cash cushions are nice, but they can get in the way of pushing you to arrive at genuine business breakthroughs. They create the illusion that you’re just fine doing things the way you’ve always done them, or the way others have done them — so why change anything?

Complacency stifles innovation.

When you have plenty of money in the bank, it’s easy to take the path of least resistance and throw money at whatever problems crop up. Sales too low? Spend more on advertising. Supplier made a mistake? Order more inventory — and put a rush on it.

The larger your cash cushion, the less likely you are to step back and intentionally think about new solutions that are best for your customers (and your business) because, well, it’s hard. But walking a well-trodden path doesn’t exactly inspire the market.

While it’s certainly easier to move forward on autopilot, the problem is that you become more of a follower than a leader — and miss out on opportunities to come up with potentially groundbreaking ideas that propel your business forward.

Desperation can be a powerful motivator.

We celebrate founders who have “a-ha” moments that change everything… but those moments usually come from some level of desperation.

When you’re backed into a corner — and your business is literally on the line — that’s when an openness to new ideas and radical thinking takes hold.

It triggers a survival-instinct level of motivation to find winning solutions, because it’s a matter of life or death for your business. You innovate because there is no other option. You can’t quit. You can’t give up. You have to find a way.

You can tap into that power even if things aren’t so dire and you’re just operating on a tighter budget than you’d like.

Instead of wishing you had more funding at your disposal, you can focus on being better. Instead of hoping you win the lottery, you can set your mind to searching for fresh and innovative strategies that will lead to growth.

No pressure, no diamonds.

Pressure is the great equalizer, and it strips away our tendency to get caught up in the window-dressing of slick offices, ping-pong tables and Friday afternoon beer-parties. In flush times, it’s all too easy to gravitate toward the “nice to haves” and focus on things that aren’t as important as increasing revenue, market share or profitability.

When you have no other options and the pressure is on, that’s when you come up with ideas you’d never thought of before. Or you take bold steps that seemed too scary or risky when you were feeling more comfortable.

When your business might go belly-up without that new product? Or you can’t feed the kids if you don’t land some new clients? It’s amazing how resourceful and innovative you can be. One stressful, challenging stretch of time could redefine your business forever.

That’s why being strapped for cash is an amazing catalyst when it comes to inspiring creative solutions. It forces you to prioritize, to commit, to try in a way that you usually can’t under normal circumstances.

Too much money can be a bad thing.

If they’d had plenty of money in the bank, van Gogh wouldn’t have painted his world-famous landscapes, and Judith Lieber wouldn’t have created her iconic handbags.

Too much money can be distracting. Or make you lazy. It allows you to ignore issues that stand in the way of growth or, worse yet, risk your company’s long-term survival. That’s not good for business.

The tighter your financial constraints, the more you’re forced to ruthlessly prioritize, to be resourceful, to be creative. Tighter constraints make you sharper, more invested and bolder in everything you do.

So don’t be in such a rush to land that huge round of funding. Instead, connect with that inner desperation you can’t get when you’re sitting pretty on a pile of cash.

The ideas and strategies you think of when your back is against the wall is probably what you should be doing now even if you are flush.

(And if you need any help with ideas or strategies, I’m here for you.)

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