Category Archives: TOMO

An Opportunity to Reset, Refactor, Reform, and Reconsider… Everything.


A Startup isn’t a Startup with out Starting Up, Multiple Times

It’s been 150 days since I started putting an idea into action and a 146 since I penned the first blog post… wow, does time really fly! I’ve come a long way and I’ve been through all of the ups, the downs, and the side-to-sides of putting a new venture together; and I’m still standing.

I’ve walked through a bunch of different concepts, prototypes, and ideas. I’ve seen a cofounder come and go and have worked with a bunch of different folks in-between. I started down the road to raise venture capital and even got a few term sheets to boot, which I feel really great about.

(Another post entirely, but, attempting to raise VC in this particular financial climate and still get term sheet offers has lead to a ton of unique and important lessons-learned. Perhaps I’ll write about it soon.)

And as I consider my options for (re)building the team, for the product, and for my options regarding financing, I had a brief moment of clarity in the past few weeks that has allowed me to take a serious step back to consider everything with a fresh perspective.

This is not unlike what most new companies and startups go through, but I somehow naively believed (despite my history and experience) that this time would be different and that I would “land” on the product and problem immediately (and at first pass) but that’s not how it happened — it rarely does.

Reading Julie’s amazing post on building product reminded me of not only the core objectives but also how to see these things rightly — you should take a moment to review it:

This quote in particular grabbed me:

Teams that fall in love with a problem have more successful outcomes than teams that fall in love with particular solutions.

I feel good about where I started and the multiple prototypes that I’ve put together — the original vision of “building healthier companies” was never in jeopardy and one of the most positive encouragements from many of the VCs that I’ve interfaced with is that I have been consistent in my position from the very beginning.

But that didn’t mean that I didn’t struggle with anxieties around the product or the direction or the team (and in particular, not having a cofounder). This recent post by Charlie O’Donnell is also helpful too:

We don’t really even have a consistent definition of what a co-founder is — so it seems preposterous that there could be such universal agreement that everyone needs one.

Charlie’s point is important to consider: You do not necessarily need a “co-founder” but you do need a team.

And since I’m now back to a team of 1 (at least the only full-time guy) it means that I have the unique opportunity and responsibility to reconsider everything (and I mean everything).

Consequently, I’m taking an important and explicit moment to refactor my thoughts, reform my thinking, and reset even the fundamental reasons of why I started writing code in the first place for this venture.

I’m going to have an important time of introspection, of retrospection, and see where those thoughts and ideas land. I want to go back, all the way back, to first-principles, the things that ultimately drive me to do what I do and to and to ask the really hard questions.

Strategically (and for important mental health reasons), I owe it to myself and future of my company — if I can’t stop for a moment and reflect then I can’t ever expect my staff and team to do so either.

Tactically, I’m going to take a break from writing here and any other digital communication (e.g. Twitter, etc). I will, of course, be writing daily (as I have been for 15 years) on my personal blog.

I’ll see you in a little bit.

Process is Documented Culture


One of the things that became very apparent to me while putting together my last company was the idea that documenting culture was how you identified and refined the organization’s culture.

In other words, if one is to organically “build” culture then it’s actually better to simply observe what is already happening and then document those things (or codify) so that others can ratify and improve on them.

This is why I believe that much of the culture that an organization has are simply the very things that are already happening, the actions that you and your team are doing, exhibiting, living, and breathing day-in and day-out.

There’s no need, especially in the beginning, to manufacture culture — it’s already happening and being built in real-time. The leader’s job, therefore, is to document them, observe, and codify them so that everyone can become literal champions of those things, especially as you begin to hire and scale the business.

When everyone else is trying to “develop” great culture I believe that those things are already happening and that the culture can’t really be created since it’s essentially already happened.

What’s nice about this model as well is that if culture is truly fluid and malleable then so is your process(es) — you can add, subtract, and completely eliminate or rebuild and retool as much as you’d like, especially as the team changes over time.

There are no “sacred cows” when it comes to process because it’s based on the people, the team, the overall staff, and the leadership. As those things change your culture changes. As your culture changes so does process.

Sure, there should probably be a few things that are uncompromisable but those things are obvious — things like integrity, honesty, and transparency. An organization should never have to have those as explicit value statements as no organization worth its salt should be without them.

And we all know what it’s like when those things aren’t really in play.

Process is documented culture, especially in the startup phase. The challenge of any growing organization is to make sure that the team takes the time to document their (changing) culture consistently — most organizations forget to do that.

Originally published at John Saddington. At Eve we believe that there is a better way to do HR. Follow our continued progress of building a company in San Francisco via Twitter, this blog, and even via our email newsletter.

On Creating Greatness


The goal of any leader (and the companies they lead, for that matter…) should be to inspire and create greatness in their staff.

Not just for their fiscal bottom-line but because helping other people become better humans, both personally and professionally, is a win-win in every single way imaginable.

And, in fact, when it happens, the bottom-lines grow.

Leadership is the art of creating greatness in other people.

This means that it’s intentional, not a mistake, and that it’s costly. Anything worth doing will always cost something because creating something is never truly deus ex machina; rather, the artists themselves must give of themselves to others for this exchange to happen, for real growth to occur.

In other words, the leader must sacrifice part of herself for the other so that they might grow and become all that they can be. It is a gift, an offering, an act of self-pruning that seeds and plants the greatest opportunities for growth in others.

When I mentor and lead others I feel the weight and responsibility of that burden. I know the cost because I immediately feel it emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I have given of myself so that the other person, sitting across from me, might accelerate, might grow, might improve, might ascend to new heights.

The expense is worth it, the investment is sound. There are no guarantees and sometimes there is no obvious return, but, I always feel amazing when I stand up, shake hands, give them a final hug, and depart, knowing that they have been encouraged to be more courageous.

And it’s medicine that I need to swallow myself day-in and day-out. I hope many of you have mentors and coaches that you trust, that can help you accelerate to be the very best versions of your worthy selves.

via Gaping Void:

It’s not a leader’s job to be great at whatever. It’s the leader’s job to make the people under him/her great at whatever.

Which is why, in old school Chinese martial arts, a master is not judged by how good his kung fu is, the master is judged by how good his/her students’ kung fu is.

Originally published at John Saddington.

Bad Systems and Good People


We all know that any good organization worth its salt has powerful and intimate systems that regulate it, that help it move things forward, that allow it to perform optimally, and that help it maintain its course.

The challenge when you start a new venture is that you’re building most if not all of these systems on-the-fly; the common metaphor that is that of putting together an airplane mid-flight — this works because that’s exactly what it’s like.

Some would find the idea of this frightening while others, like myself, find this exhilarating and in many ways I live for this type of dynamic; there are few things more exciting than putting together something from scratch.

We’re building the rules (and breaking them) all at the same time and all of this somehow works together to push things forward. And if there’s an art to it then I’m still learning how to paint and if there’s a science to it then I’ve never been classically-trained — I’m just enjoying the ride and very grateful for the opportunity every single day.

But it doesn’t escape me that putting dedicated time every week to review the systems that I’ve instituted and to ask myself and the team whether they are working.

Why? Because if the systems are fundamentally bad then we’re in grave trouble. I’m reminded of W. Edwards Deming’s quote regarding systems and people:

A bad system will beat a good person every single time.

What I think Deming forgot, though, is the fact that great people can build new systems that can eradicate a bad system — it just takes time and, sometimes, the “system” is actually related to certain people and not some abstract set of things that need to be done in specific steps.

In other words, sometimes you have to both add new people to the team and remove old people to continue moving the ship forward. I’ve had to do this with my previous organizations as it really is a matter of survival — if you’re going to sprint a marathon then you need the best people for the job at that specific leg of the race and you can’t except sub-standard substitutes.

Knowing all of this doesn’t make the job of hiring and firing any easier — I’ll admit that it’s the absolute worst part of my job and I’m still learning how to become a better manager (a better hiring manager, to be more specific) and a leader overall.

Putting things in order.

The most encouraging thing about company building and the work done so far with Eve is that I can literally see my own growth as a person and professional in real-time. I am still learning, every single day, on how to do my work better and as a result I’m surviving, my company is surviving.

To summon Deming once more:

Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.

Amen to that.

The goal is to hire the very best that you can and, together, build systems that move the ball down the court. Bad systems with bad people is certain death while the opposite, good systems with good people is the obvious goal. Everything in between is merely an opportunity for improvement, for optimization, for growth.

And if you’re growing then you’re headed in the right direction. Keep going.

Originally published at John Saddington. At Eve we believe that there is a better way to do HR. Follow our continued progress of building a company in San Francisco via Twitter, this blog, and even via our email newsletter.

Career vs. Job

Images via BOSSFIGHT

How We Think About These Two Things at Eve.

Zach Holman shared these thoughts yesterday that I wanted to capture them for future reference as well as an opportunity for me to cogitate on them for a bit:

Although, for some, it might just be semantics I think that he hits on what I believe is a touch point and even a commentary on how the next generation (this generation…?) thinks about work and career.

Personally, I’ve had a ton of jobs over the years and I’m very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had. All of these jobs are building the story which I am calling “my career” — this is categorically different than how my father and his generation understood “career” which was more along the lines of one specific job at one company for a very long time, possibly until retirement.

My father, in fact, worked essentially for one company for 37 years and, in comparison, I may have worked for 37 companies / organizations already at a tender age of 33. We couldn’t be more different!

But my father has been successful and I’m on my way — it’s probably another discussion entirely about what “success” really means and looks like but that’s for another post another day.

What does this mean for a new company and how we talk about working with the team? I think it means we have, at the very least, a fresh opportunity to clarify, in no uncertain terms, how we view the ideas around jobs at Eve and what we think about the person’s career.

And so I’ll do that right now:

At Eve we understand a job in the much larger context of one’s career. In other words, a job is specific work for a specific time (or season) where value is created for both the organization and for the individual’s career, which will ultimately consist of many jobs through many different seasons that may span many different and exciting themes.

My commitment as a leader at Eve is to make sure that the work today (i.e. the job) contributes strategically to the individual’s career and that it is not good enough to exchange time for dollars — instead, it is our pleasure and our unique opportunity to significantly impact the trajectory of their career and leave a positive, lasting mark.

This is just the beginning to my personal thoughts and internal dialogue around the meaning of jobs and careers but I want to keep them top-of-mind and to encounter it plainly, for myself and for our growing team.

I want to make a commitment to talk openly about my own career and my staff’s career path(s) so that we can all benefit greatly from our time together. I think this also makes our work even more exciting, worthwhile, and fun.

Who would have thought?

Originally published at John Saddington. At Eve we believe that there is a better way to do HR. Follow our continued progress of building a company in San Francisco via Twitter, this blog, and even via our email newsletter.

On Breaking Rules & Staying Positive

Tony Horton of P90X

And How a Startup is Like P90X for the Mind

I once heard someone say that building a startup is like P90X for your mind, except that you never get any breaks, ever.

This metaphor worked for me because 5 years ago I actually attempted the P90X regimen and it was really, really hard — one of the hardest physical training exercise routines that I’ve ever attempted.

I managed to complete the full course, never missing a day and religiously giving it my all and then I never did it again — it was that effective in its difficulty.

But the example stuck with me and I’ve been starkly reminded of that while putting together Eve because there isn’t any time not to be thinking about the company, the product, and every single known existential crisis that continues to crop up.

A startup is truly P90X for the mind and as Tony Horton, the creator of P90X has famously said:

I hate it, but I love it.

Man, that cracks me up every single time I hear / see it… there’s also a bit of PTSD if I’m honest.

Images via BOSSFIGHT

When you start a company you build it on the back of hopes, dreams, and a certain level of naiveté that allows even the most experienced professional or startup founder leave the orbit of reason for a bit of time so that you can move things forward.

It’s physically and mentally getting up in the morning and believing that all of it is truly possible and even though you know that things will inevitably go completely sideways it doesn’t stop you from moving forward.

The seasoned entrepreneurs (and I count myself on that list, although with a bit of trepidation) know enough when they begin to build in systems at the very start to ensure that moving through the typical ups-and-downs are handled with a bit more finesse and skill; or, at the very least, can be managed with greater speed.

I’ve done a lot of that with this company, building a relentlessly resourceful culture and one that allows a bit of fluidity with our values as things change. I set the tone, the pace, and a very high bar of expectations of my staff and team, but most importantly, on myself.

Outside of these philosophical “flags in the sand” I also began pacing out a lot of our more tactical, day-to-day operational elements, like daily standups for the team (and even when I was by myself) and religiously blogging twice a week on this blog.

You see, these daily and weekly exercises create sure footing which is especially important when much of a startup is locked up in rampant ambiguity and the unknown.

But last week I failed to create two pieces of content for the company blog and I got unbelievably frustrated with myself over what is not even that big of a deal — or is it?

Play with excellence, even when no one is watching.

Staying positive when faced with disappointment is not something that anyone ever taught me. In fact, it’s probably not something that anyone ever taught you either.

It’s just something that some of us seem to navigate really well and with very little impact while, for some of us, it can completely derail our entire life and put us in a near-irrecoverable tailspin.

Historically, I’ve been in the latter camp and for the longest time it would take me days, weeks, and sometimes years to recover — there were some issues that I would “hold” onto that couldn’t be released without significant help from the outside via therapy and counseling. Worse still is the fact that the cost of not letting these things go is difficult to count.

But gratitude has been a welcome panacea (which is partly why I count the days) and something that continues to be a worthy and welcome salve, especially to the issues and pain that is often self-inflicted.

Was missing a blog post last week really that bad? Did the world end and did people suffer because they didn’t have one more thing to read in their RSS readers or on their mobile devices? Obviously not.

But taking a step back I realized that it was symptomatic of some of the larger challenges of startup life that I had yet to solve and that I had become so overwhelmed with these larger issues that I was unable to even fulfill some of the smaller tactical pieces of company building and operating.

Hard medicine to swallow but the reality of a startup is that there are 1,000 things that need attention and a constant challenge is to prioritize and then execute. Simply put, if you are unable to exercise extreme executive decision making then a startup just isn’t for you (and even the best of us still struggle with it!).

And the job of the CEO is to do just that. Balance it with the ability to forgive oneself for a small act of potential negligence (e.g. forgetting to blog two times a week) and you’ll do just fine; I’ll do just fine.

Besides, breaking the rules is part and parcel of what a startup is all about, right? If you’re unable to break your own, recover, and ultimately thrive then startup founding is probably not for you.

So go on, break the rules, stay positive in light of the overwhelming odds, and be exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to get your ass kicked while doing something meaningful.

Life just doesn’t get any better than this, including P90X… why?

I hate it, but I love it.

Yup. Just like that.

At Eve we believe that there is a better way to do Human Resources. Follow our continued progress of building a company in San Francisco via Twitter, this blog, and even via our email newsletter.

On Compelling Job Descriptions

We should freshen them up, shouldn’t we?

Finding great people to work with is one of the best parts of my job and it thrills me when I’m part of an organization that (humbly) needs the help.

Now, in the past, I’ve had to come up with (from scratch) a bunch of job descriptions but as I look at this exercise with fresh eyes I find most of the overviews that I’ve written very lacking.

Well, to be clear, they were useful and they did, in fact, work. But, there must be better ways of communicating the very DNA and fabric of one’s budding culture than a few words (and paragraphs) on a page, right?

I mean, they are all starting to look and feel the same…:

The all look so similar…

Type of Job (FT/PT)
 Location of Job

A two to three sentence overview sharing some of the major milestones of the company and perhaps some creative colloquialism or witty or aspirational saying and/or quote that might “capture” the reader’s attention for a brief moment.

Description must include the hard-hitting overview of how badass the founding team is (with any notable accomplishments) and a “humblitious” mention of any name-brand Venture Capitalists and/or angel investors that have given the team money.

And, if there’s room, throw in a high-level perk or a reference to how super-cute the office is and any local amenity that someone might care about (e.g. food and bars).


In bullet point form:

  • List the job responsibilities that seem oddly similar to many others that you’ve read 1,000 times before.
  • Make sure that you put the flashier ones at the top (or at least the first few that someone might actually read) and the ones that are more borish at the bottom.
  • If they’ve been copy-and-pasted, make sure to add, at the end, any contextually-relevant responsibilities that might make it seem that the job posting is original.
  • List who this person will manage and/or report to so that they can feel adequately special and/or empowered.

Any aspirational quote and/or creative reminders before and after the bullet points is also fair game.


Here, in bullet-point form:

  • You will list job requirements that are general enough to have global coverage and yet specific enough for people to actually think through them for a moment.
  • Some year qualifier and/or experience number (e.g. 10+ years of fill-in-the-blank) for a few tactical things.
  • Repeat previous bullet point to showcase that you’ve given this some thought.
  • Repeat previous bullet point to showcase even greater thought.
  • Add a fourth one if necessary but don’t overdue it since you don’t want to minimize your potential “pipeline” of talent.
  • Some other mundane requirements such as degrees from university or college might be here (but perhaps they were left on after a comprehensive copy-and-paste job).
  • Some other incredibly-weak statement that said person should have “experience” doing things that most humans end up doing even if it’s purely accidental.

End the job posting with another aspirational quote or witty saying and then don’t forget to ask them to follow on Twitter, link to the blog, or some other “actionable” item that someone in marketing threw in there at the request of a metrics-based executive.

EEO statement here if the company so desires it showing that they do, in fact, care about a “diverse” workforce and that they are in compliance with San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance and some other laws that no one really knows about.

Okay, I probably should go spend some time thinking this over for my own company now and not do what I just did (I’m not sure that was the absolute best use of my time…).

I think there’s a ton of room to be much more creative and engaging with our job descriptions — heck, these are jobs and opportunities for world-changing organizations and businesses, right…? Right?!?

Originally published at John Saddington. We’re building something different EVE and we promise to make better and more compelling job descriptions when we start hiring — we swear. Follow us on Twitter.

On Mental Health and Avoiding Burnout

Images via BOSSFIGHT

And an Overview of My Commitments as a Leader

Building a company is really, really, really hard. I’ve said it so many times before and I’m not sorry that I continue to bang that drum incessantly. I’ll admit it: I do it because it’s one part self-therapy and two parts level-setting, at least psychologically since it reminds me that the emotions that I feel are all consistent with what is to be expected.

And even though I’ve done this before I can still get caught off-guard on how quickly my emotions move from one spectrum to the other — even over the course of a single day! I may wake up feeling like an unbelievable conqueror and by the end of the day I’m curled up in a ball waiting for the chemistry to kick in (supplemental melatonin works).

One benefit that I do have, though, after a handful of ventures under my belt is this: A bit more self-awareness which allows me to see more clearly the negative signals that tell me it’s time for (small) break.

In common business parlance we call this “avoiding burnout” — and don’t think for one moment that that’s not a real thing.

Honest conversations are hard. Trust takes time to build.

Thankfully, there’s now a ton of content out there on the web about founder burnout and the power of being more self-aware and strategies / tactics for taking breaks — it’s all just a “Google Search” away!

This has, as a natural consequence, created a greater cultural awareness around burnout and mental health and it’s becoming less of a faux paux or taboo to discuss it openly.

This has been a major boon for everyone, especially those that do actively struggle with mental illness (like me!) on the regular since an honest conversation with your coworkers, staff, and team is no longer as difficult as it once was.

But it wasn’t always this way and I have spent most of my professional life trying to hide the parts of my life that weren’t so pretty; I spent an enormous amount of energy sharing only part of who I really was.

And everyone loses in those situations.

We succeed (or fail) as a team.

As we continue to build out our team and grow an organization that I’m super-proud of, one built upon trust and not suspicion and has health as one of the core values, I want to be intentional and explicit about things like mental health, burnout, and the struggles that we all face collectively as a team.

I want to outline the following things so that there’s absolutely no question about where I stand on these matters:

  1. Your mental health matters and I want you to feel comfortable talking about it as freely as you discuss your favorite coffee or celebratory drink. I’m committed to have a culture that allows this to happen.
  2. But, I know that it can be difficult to talk about, especially with those that you work with. As such, we will financially support any effort to get help outside of work with mental health professionals and counselors.
  3. I will, as a leader in the organization, actively model good mental health practices and provide resources for the staff and team on a consistent basis. I will bring it up in 1:1’s, staff meetings, and talk freely about my own challenges without any expectation that you do the same.

My motivation is very, very simple: I want to be the healthiest possible person for my family, my team, our customers, and our financial supporters and stakeholders. Consequently, I also want the very same thing for you, my teammate and friend.

I hope you can help me build an organization that cultivates, invests, and grows the healthiest of people, personally and professionally. If not, then what are we really building (and why)?

(If you have any questions or thoughts or comments you can always feel free to ping me directly:

At EVE we’re building technology that frees up more time for humans to do things that only humans can do. This is our story on how we get there. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our email newsletter.

Why We Count The Days (and Why That Matters A Lot to Our Company)

Images via BOSSFIGHT

TL;DR: It Gives Context: Makes Us Grateful, Humble

If you’ve had the opportunity of reading any of our previous posts on our blog hosted here on Medium or even interfacing with me in public then you’ve probably seen how we (I) often reference the # of days it’s been since we first started putting our little project together.

For instance, today is Day #115 and today is absolutely glorious (just like all of the other days before it)!

By the way, this isn’t a random social or cultural artifact that I created because I was bored nor is it an awkward “quirk” from an obsessive-compulsive startup founder (although you can argue that point all you want…) — I believe it is a super-simple yet powerful tool for business and company building.

And here’s why…

There are ‘good’ storms and ‘bad’ ones in a startup. You need both.

After having built a few companies in the past and having the very humbling and distinct honor of putting one together that experienced “hyper-growth” I know the struggle of keeping the company culture intact as new people join the team — in fact, I sourced, interviewed, and made offer letters for the first 42 people in my previous venture!

More specifically, I know how hard it is to share and communicate cultural norms and the history of the company as time goes on as these things can get easily lost in translation and/or people forget to share these important pieces of data.

I mean, things are moving so fast and there are so many things to be doing that a “history lesson” is the last thing that can get prioritized on anyone’s To-Do list.

This is unfortunate because some of the most powerful pieces of cultural information on the company and business is the founding history and the early stages of the company!

Days becomes weeks and weeks become months and months become years and suddenly people start joining the company who do not fully understand the complete picture of how the company got to where it is today (and where they’ve been). And, there’s no system in place to make sure that these new folk can get caught up, or at the very least, given some perspective.

You see, these stories are fundamentally important because they are more than just the social and cultural “moorings” of a business — they explain the founding principles, they explain and give answer to the holy grail question of “why” and provide clear context for the now — for the “what” and “how”.

These origin stories are the very lifeblood of the organization and they remind all parties, all team members, and all leaders why they said “yes” to building this particularly business at this stage of their lives when they could have said “yes” to many other alternatives.

And so that’s where numbering the days comes in very, very handy…

A cultural lighthouse.

I’m not very good with numbers, trust me on this — you can ask my 9-year old as she’s seen me struggle to pace with her and some of her math studies that she brings home. But I can count and I’m really good at that.

Counting is simple enough but that’s probably why it’s so powerful and so accessible. Telling someone that the company is 115 days old gives them context of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

It also gives context to the team about how much progress has been achieved and how much we have to celebrate, how grateful we can all be about the velocity, momentum, and sheer monumental effort that we’ve all already invested into the business.

It simply makes (and keeps) me, as a leader and founder of the company, distinctly and chiefly humble. I can’t believe how much we’ve done, how far we’ve come, in such short order. And I’m so freakin’ thankful for the team that surrounds me — I couldn’t have done it without them.

So, when said team is discouraged or we’ve hit any type of roadblock I can just share the # of days that we’ve been working and remind the team (and myself) the distance traveled. It’s a leveling stick, a discrete and distinctly objective piece of data that helps align the team, emotionally and psychologically, on the same page. It keeps us grounded.

And as we grow our team and add more members to the staff the number will keep growing with it and everyone will have a bit more context on where we’ve been, what’s been done, and how grateful we all can be for the ride so far (and the one that is continuing to develop).

My job, then, as one of the leaders in the organization is to simply remind people that we are, in fact, counting. Sometimes I’ll even write about them, like these two posts that recount the first 50 and then the first 100 days:

I consider it a responsibility, a joy even, to be “that” guy that helps keep context, helps keep score, helps level the ship a bit better for everyone on the team, so we can remember how good we’ve all got it.

Because we do — we’re blessed to be doing what we get to do, all the time, in every way, the good and the bad. You see, a startup gives many of us the opportunity to live the fullest lives that we can possibly live — we simply can’t do “this” in any other context.

And we’d have it no other way.

Finishing Day #115 at EVE has been an exciting journey, every single day. You should follow our progress on this blog,via Twitter, and/or via our email newsletter for updates.

Obsessing Over Small Improvements & The Mania Required to Not Quit on Incremental Growth

It’s like waiting for a pot of tea to steep. Images via BOSSFIGHT.

In startup world it’s easy to get obsessed and entirely distracted with all of the many huge shifts around technology and the companies that are taking advantage of these shifts and end up hitting “hyper-growth” stages.

The completely unsexy reality is that many of these companies have been around for years and only recently have started to get some traction and, as a consequence, are starting to get some modicum of attention. You and I hear it often enough:

Wow, I had no idea that they’ve been around for that long!

The most poignant example of this for me personally was the fact that the very first time I had ever heard of “Zappos” was when they were acquired by Amazon for nearly one billion dollars.

I had no idea that they had been around for a decade (and certainly hadn’t used their service).

Collecting wood takes time (and you save it for much later use).

The reality of building a company is that the founding team lives in this strange place where the entirety of their life is centered around this idea, the product, and the small team of crazy people who also believe in the germ of an idea. We easily forget the forest among the trees.

People easily forget (including me) how long it takes to build a company and that finding a market that’s ready to purchase some sort of version of their product can take an enormous amount of time — sometimes it feels like an absolute eternity.

And I’ll admit, even after having done this a few times even I can become upset or discouraged when I don’t see the traction as early as I would like!

But the startup game is both about hyper-growth and also, at the exact same time, a mania around small improvements, the things that are done incrementally that, in isolation, do not appear to matter much but end up being a major part of the company’s success in aggregate.

It’s about winning the small, daily skirmishes that end up winning the major battles and then ultimately the war. It’s the day-in / day-out grind that ends up being the things that ultimately count and that will amount to great success or will be forgotten (or blamed as reason for not making it).

Make that content!

For instance, everyone agrees that a consistent content marketing strategy is a must-have for any company of any size and despite the acceptance of this universal truth not many companies spend the time and the resources to do anything close to what anyone would consider “consistent content marketing”.

The point is this: It just takes a certain type of perspective, a certain type of mania to relentlessly focus on the small, incremental improvements that really push the needle forward for the long-term.

It requires that the founding team and leadership have the philosophy (and the resulting pragmatic systems) in place so that these things are prioritized and executed against. You must be relentlessly resourceful about all parts of the business, all the time.

And so I’ve found myself reviewing all of the “small” things that we’re doing as a team that are adding up big-time already for us:

  1. Blogging religiously twice a week on our blog here on Medium.
  2. Executing against Version Zero Dot Zeros and making small incremental changes to maximize impact, especially after hearing from our early testers and customers.
  3. All the small administrative things that it takes to put a business together, optimizing each one, tweaking as you go along.
  4. Making adjustments to pitch decks after every attempt, after every phone call, and taking every critique as helpful.
  5. Slowly adding to our team (“observers”) who are adding value incrementally to our tech and strategy. Relationships take time so this is a requirement to build early, often, and always.
  6. Experimenting with other marketing initiatives as we have time and making small adjustments with content and copy. Doing simple A/B Testing even when we think it’s too early.
  7. Reaching out to a growing list of users within different communities, actively engaging with them 1:1, having coffee dates and the like.
  8. Grinding hard on our messaging and overall pitch and positioning statements, mostly internally so that I’m simply practicing it as much as I possibly can.
  9. Growing as a leadership team by allocating time to read leadership books and content pieces from respected thought leaders.
  10. Practicing (and modeling) healthy behavior and a lifestyle that centers around health, especially since it’s one of our core values.

We believe that we are in this for the long-game and that building a company does, in fact, take a very long time, especially if you want to build something that far outlasts you.

Yes, it can be frustratingly-slow, most of the time, but we’re not making decisions to optimize for a “quick flip” or anything that would jeopardize our long-term goal of helping organizations become more healthy.

We just won’t do it. So, consequently, we’re pretty manic about small improvements, the incremental growth opportunities that will one day balloon into something very, very big.

One day at a time.

We’re obsessed with building healthy organizations and we’re building tools to do just that. Join us in our journey to make it happen: Follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our Email Newsletter, and follow this blog.