For almost a decade people have been asking me this question. Family, friends, ex-wife, everybody asks me this question. The challenge for me is that when working with start-up’s, re-starts, new divisions and others, my value is often contextual. In some cases I am focused on streamlining operations, in some cases it is building new partnerships, in some cases it is finding capital or refining a business model. I am, in Mafia terms, “a fixer”, in Sean Ellis’ terms, “a growth hacker”.
I often get brought in by angel investors or early stage board members who are worried that the company is not moving fast enough, missing milestones, or in some way not living up to its potential. What I frequently find is not a team that is not capable but rather a team that is simply not focused on the right things.
Vision is great. Beware vision.
Many of the entrepreneurs I work with are truly visionary. Like Mozart, who heard entire scores not single lines, they see their company in its entirety from the jump. It is this vision that drives them and excites those around them. Once you know what a company looks like when it is all grown up then the rest is “easy”. All you need to do is reverse engineer it and start building the pieces. The problem with this approach is that companies are living things and therefore the order in which the components are built is important, as is the business/customer environment in which a company in trying to grow in. It is in this ordering of activities, not the identification of activities, that companies can often find success or frustration. There is a huge difference between spending your time on things that add value and spending your time on things that add value TODAY!
Fastest path to cash (FP2C) is a focusing phrase for me that often allows start-ups to quickly define the critical path and put the rest of its activities to the side until the time is right. I know it is not easy to tell a team member that the partnership deal he/she has been working on is great but needs to be put on hold. As difficult as that discussion is, it is easier than try to recoup the hours lost meeting on, discussing and negotiating a deal that will not bear fruit for 6 months.
2-man founding teams prioritize out of necessity. There are only 336 hours available to a 2-man team per week. Allotting for a small amount of sleep and recognizing that the difference between Ramen and a real meal is the traction that will allow them to close an angel round, they instinctively identify and myopically stay on the FP2C. Since this implicit prioritization is rarely made explicit, it is easily lost as the team grows larger. There are a multitude of areas which add value to a company and increase the probability and size of their ultimate success (My business partner and I have a list of 30 for evaluating a company’s exponential growth potential see presentation below). The difference between growing and not is making sure you are working on the right ones at the right time.