Do 85% twice

Every now and then, someone “explains” to the internet what 10x looks like.

Sometimes they do it with a good deal of expertise, like Ken Norton’s 10x Not 10% post from a few years ago breaking down how to think much bigger. Often it’s done with less finesse, like this recent thread of tweets about the mystical 10x engineer from Shekhar Kirani of Accel Ventures.

In those cases, writers choose to weigh the obvious (that some people have extraordinary talent) over the also obvious (glorifying + excusing behavior of high performers actually destroys teams).

There may be some value to aiming very high and never accepting the possibility of failure, but another way to look at it is that the best people on a team never aim for 10x. They get to 85% of what they can see should exist, make sure it works + everyone is involved/understands it, and then once they're done they go back and do 85% again with a result far better.

Simply put, they just move faster than everyone else, they’re more iterative, and they are willing to consider outcomes other people don’t. That doesn’t require any inherent genius (though in some cases it helps), and it doesn’t have to destroy the people around them either.

Long story short: if you do 85% x 2, you’ll almost always learn more and get closer to the moon pie in the sky idea you had anyway.

What adding value looks like

One of the first pieces of startup jargon you’ll hear when creating a company is the importance of focusing on pain points, and adding value.

It’s a simple idea: talk to potential customers, find out what’s not working, create an experiment that addresses that pain point, and see what happens.

In lean startup language this is often called a MVP (minimum viable product) but it’s been around since the scientific method was invented, and maybe even longer.

For the most part, big data sets aren’t necessary at this stage. If you listen to your customers, look at their habits with respect to your product vs. what they do otherwise, you’ll find out quickly if you’re adding value to their life and/or work.

But adding value can work in a lot of ways, not all of them are real and/or sustainable on even a medium range much less long-term. Lyft and Uber used claims of revolutionizing transportation to create artificial growth and “solve” a pain point for consumers. Yet, both companies have heavily subsidized the cost for a majority of riders, and lost billions of dollars each year.

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A metric for investing in your team

Here is a thing not many people will say out loud: investing in your team is hard.

Often, it is an expected part of a founder, executive, or leader's job but not valued in the same way that revenue, customers, product use etc. are even though investing in your team is what helps you hit those goals.

Coaching / leading a team is also the defining factor in whether or not you are creating sustainable and responsible growth with purpose, with equity...or just floating some line about diversity or meritocracy.

How you design your internal choices (or not) and enable your team to keep iterating, changing, updating, seeing opportunity individually + together, that's the whole battle.

You'll never hear this at a board meeting or on a quarterly earnings call, but it matters.

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When things go wrong

Things can go sideways in any company or organization, regardless of size or industry.

You don’t have to be evil or stupid for this to happen. Markets change constantly, and timing and luck have a lot to do with whether your product is successful over time.

Often, there are opportunities to course correct before the problem(s) become major. But seeing those opportunities (and acting on them) depends heavily on building good culture.

At a team level, if you are a manager, director, or executive cutting headcount or delivering a performance improvement plan (corporate lingo for “you’re not doing well and need to get it together”), it’s already too late.

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Who is it for

At the beginning of every new venture, there is one question that matters…

Who is it for?

Often, our dream is for the new thing to reach as many people as possible. “Everyone!” we respond, knowing that what we are working on has the potential to change the world.

Experienced founders know this is a trap. You can always increase the scope of what you’re working on later, but growth begins by focusing on specific audiences and communities.

This is why we unconsciously dismiss brands or organizations that churn out huge and life-changing promises, but don’t deliver the specifics. We know, of course, that it is hard to change the world but seek relationships where people deliver on their promises.

At every moment, ask yourself, who is this for? And if you aspire to develop a strong and broad community …the answer isn’t “the ceo” or “the board” or “me.”

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