Day One, Every Day

Jeff Bezos is famous for a number of things, some positive and some negative. One of the former elements that I’ve borrowed heavily in the past (and still using) is his philosophy of running a Day One type of company.

Day 2 is stasis.

Followed by irrelevance.

Followed by excruciating, painful decline.

Followed by death.

And that is why it is always Day 1.

Jeff Bezos

There’s a lot in his 2016 Shareholder Letter and it’s worth reading regardless of where you actually sit in your business (and especially leaders). And, if you think you’re closer to being a Day Two company, then, you’re going to want to right-the-ship sooner than later.

Perhaps it’s already too late (that’s a negative thought, moving on…).

So, what does one do to ensure that they have the right thinking? Let’s borrow the high-levels from Bezos — here are the four areas that Jeff considers as the “starter pack” for being in a Day One mentality:

  1. Customer obsession
  2. A skeptical view of proxies
  3. Eager adoption of external trends
  4. High-velocity decision making

In particular, since we’ve started things over, we don’t even have a choice in the matter! We are a Day One company, literally, today.

So, what does that actually look like? Glad you asked. Here’s what we’re doing to put the wheels back on.

Early-stage companies have nothing more than educated hunches, effectively best-guesses as to what a real, paying customer wants. This is why an intense obsession with your customers is where you actually start.

So, that’s where we’re starting: Our prime directive as a team is to build a product that satisfies a customer’s real need — it’s a lot harder than you’d believe (obviously as we’ve spent the last few years trying and failing!).

And despite what you think you know (and how much you think you know) you and I are probably a lot farther off from the target than we want to admit.

But, there are ways of solving this problem and it starts with communication. More specifically, you have to intentionally build channels that will give you access to potential (future) customers and start building real, authentic, relationships with them. Crazy, right?

Consequently, I’ve decided to use the following four tools to start building our communication channels with the intent on identifying folks in our community who are interested in talking about what we’re building and maybe, just maybe, test-driving our early builds.

Twitter! Where have you been my long-lost friend…
  1. YouTube — This company wouldn’t exist without video! We are also uniquely positioned to leverage this network based on our experience. We upload videos daily although the native algorithms limit our exposure and notifications.
  2. Twitter — Another inconsistent communication channel. In the pivot I changed the handle from @yen_io to one that I felt was much more “on brand”: @yenFTW
  3. Indie Hackers — I have fallen in love with this community of builders and I’m providing more updates there than our blog.
  4. Blog — This blog has fallen by the wayside a bit but will still have meaningful updates when appropriate.
  5. Our Platform — Our technology platform is in its infancy but we’re sharing screenshots here and there.

Even now this list seems overwhelming, especially when you consider all of the other things that this small, nascent project needs to do in order to compete in a busy and noisy world!

But, without an intentional decision on your communication tools, you’ll be constantly fighting against the incessant noise that will inevitably drown out the real insights necessary for you to build a product that people not just love but also tell other folk’s about.

So, we must choose wisely or we risk obsessing over everything else except the customer.

Updated: November 23, 2019

Late last week I sat down and decided that I’d pen our new operating virtues for the new project and company. I wanted it to be clinical, clear, and give very little wiggle room for misunderstanding.

The point was simple: I wanted my team to understand that we are operating as a Day One company and that “high-velocity decision making” was more important than pretty much anything else.

Here’s what I wrote to the team (I’ve left it as I originally wrote it in Dropbox Paper):

Bushido looks like a set of principles, but it’s a set of practices. The samurai defined culture as a code of action, a system not of values but of virtues. A value is merely a belief, but a virtue is a belief that you actively pursue or embody. 

The reason so many efforts to establish “corporate values” are basically worthless is that they emphasize beliefs instead of actions. Culturally, what you believe means nearly nothing. What you do is who you are.

Ben Horowitz, What You Do is Who You Are

We believe that operating virtues are contextually-driven by the people in our company and the collective actions and behavior in light of our current Prime Directive. Ergo, they will change as our focus and direction change, a living and evolving WIP (“Work in Progress”).

1. Table All The Things — #tatt

Or, in other words, we “put everything out on the table” — the good, the bad, and most definitely the ugly. Information is the lifeblood of our business which is especially true in a distributed-first organization. This means that we share things in real-time: We don’t wait for the timing to be “perfect” and we’re comfortable with sharing incomplete, imperfect, and unpolished prose. 

Consequently, this means that what we share is going to be, quite often, incomplete, imperfect, and in sore need of serious polishing — we treat all updates with respect, knowing of the courage required to share something that may make the person look foolish, silly, or even stupid. Instead, we engage graciously, responding to the update with the care and attention that we’d hope to receive if it was our own, knowing that they’ve successfully modeled this virtue with excellence.

Finally, #tatt means that we’ll often share things that are intensely personal and are only meant for those presently at our table. Everything shared in our communication tools should be held in the highest regard and with strict confidence.

Our table is strong when trust is the foundation.

2. Speed of Decision Making — #sodm

No bullshit: We are in a fight for our very survival and every single day we make life-altering decisions — sometimes, with very little data. Regardless, we agree with General Patton when he said “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” 

That “plan”, by the way, is our first operating virtue, #tatt, because our team has mastered the art of communicating plainly the high-level context, the people involved, and the decision(s) that need to be made and by what time (and by whom). We clearly state if consensus or feedback is required and, with enough collective confidence that we can bear, we commit to the decision, even if we may personally disagree. We move the fastest when we are aligned, feelings aside.

Otherwise, you should #tatt, providing all the above data and informing the team of your decision with a request for specific people to keep you accountable — this simply means that you will do what you say you’ll do and you’re asking for support in keeping that commitment on track.

11/25/2019 — Today vs Tomorrow

The reason so many efforts to establish “corporate values” are basically worthless is that they emphasize beliefs instead of actions.

Culturally, what you believe means nearly nothing.

What you do is who you are.

Ben Horowitz

As you can see, I’m not fucking around — the stakes are high and this is effectively our last shot at building something that’s going to make everyone’s pockets heavier instead of lighter! This needs to work or it won’t.

Collectively, the team needs as much information as possible (#tatt) the moment it becomes available so that we can make the most informed decisions possible, without delay. (#sodm) — that is everything for us; this is how YEN does Day One.

Not surprising is the fact that most (if not all) new projects and early-stage ventures start in the exact same place! Today, it’s just our small, tactical team of 3 folks and we need to spend our time getting to know our amazing community!

And how we go about doing that is as simple as wisely choosing a handful of tools and then getting to work, building relational bridges, having conversations with real people about real things — you know, building real relationships with our community members — who would have thought.

New projects need lift. They need encouragement. They need the support of real community if they are going to literally survive.

Why? Because without a community you won’t have any customers, full stop. Never forget that your (future) customers are also community members! We can’t let that type of antiquated web 2.0-thinking (customers ≠ community) creep into modern business-building calculus!

Successful (and innovative) businesses of all sizes know that community is more than just a “strategy”; it’s a fundamental part of how they build revenue (make money!) and also execute cost-savings (save money!) — it’s time that we all level-up.

I hope you follow our progress and join our community via one of the four sites listed above because we’re going places and it’s going to be a lot of fun.