I was rereading The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz last Saturday. It’s a unique business book because it doesn’t propound specific strategies to get through the business of business.
That’s part of the problem we have today.
Young, first-time entrepreneurs are so focused on the idea and the strategy that they lose sight of the business of business.
It brings to mind the old saying “you can’t see the forest because of the trees.”
We all start out with a grand vision that changes so much so quickly. It’s part of the deal.
Any skills we learn today can become obsolete in twelve months.
The race is on to stay relevant in a world that’s changing faster than any other time in history.
Starting is easier than ever
A hundred years ago, it was hard to start a company so most people didn’t. Distribution channels were poor, there was no internet, and phones were still being adopted.
Today, you can start a business with a few hundred dollars and scale to a million in annual revenue in less than three years.
The popular podcasts, blog posts, and videos talk about the specific promotion tactics the founders or marketing head used to grow the business. They don’t focus much on the customer development and product development that went into it.
I don’t blame them.
Success stories get more views and engagement.
Taken together, there’s a rosy picture about what it takes to start and grow a new venture. When I started working on my company, KyLeads, it was as easy as buying a domain, a framework, and hiring a developer.
We were off to the races.
Except, it wasn’t a sprint. It was a marathon that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.
Instead of overnight success, I began a long process of learning new skills, firing people who weren’t meeting our standards, losing cash, and staying up late at night.
The blog posts didn’t prepare me for 10% of what I faced as a SaaS CEO.
Unfortunately, things fall apart
I think this is one of the most consistent unwritten rules in business.
Things will fall apart, other organizations will threaten your position, and employees will fall short of expectations.
You’re humming along while kicking ass and taking names. Out of left field, key team members will quit, customers will fire you, and your partner will get sick. The economy will crash, banks and investors will cut off lines of credit, and the walls will start closing in. Things fall apart and it’s up to you to pick up the pieces – every time.
It’s a struggle.
So what are you to do when this happens? How do you pick up the pieces? How do you become great at what you do?
Although there’s no secret to being great and keeping a company running, there are skills which are more important than others.
The chief skill is focus.
you focus on the details of the day to day while keeping sight of the vision that compelled you to start the company. Focus solves a lot of the problems because entrepreneurs, if given the opportunity, will chase shiny objects.
It’s human nature.
Suggestions for picking up the pieces to keep the show going
It’s not the end until you give up. There’s always another choice. Those choices can be painful at times but that’s what makes you great. The ability to make hard choices and keep going.
Share the problems. You’re in a unique position because you’re surrounded by the best people you can find and their job is to work hard to help you solve problems. When you’re at the head of a team, the first instinct is to shelter people from the harshest realities.
You bear the brunt of the downs and share the wins. While this is noble, it’s not the best way to go about it. Let people flex their idea muscles and put the skills you hired them for to good use. Two people can work faster and bring a wider perspective to problems than one person. Three people are better.
Play the long game. Everything is about scale, acquisition, and moving fast. In the pursuit of short term gains, the long term vision gets swept under the rug. Fight this at all costs and whenever possible, play the long game.
Spend time getting it right the first time around if the slower speed won’t kill you. Make investments that will yield massive returns next year instead of next quarter.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on quick wins. I’m saying you shouldn’t only work on quick wins. No business survives for an enviable amount of time without long term investments.
It’s personal but it’s not. It may be personal for you because you’ve got so much invested. For other people on your team, it’s just business. Take everything people do to you and for you with a grain of salt.
This is not an excuse to be cynical. Rather, it’s meant to give you more perspective about why certain people aren’t as motivated or don’t take things the same way you do.
I always work on the weekends. Even though our support lines close on Friday evening, our customers run into problems or need help at all hours of the day. I keep Intercom open whenever I fire up my computer so I can help them.
This is my personal time but it’s still business.
Tell it like it is. If you tend to sugarcoat things to spare the feelings of those around you then stop. You’re just blowing sunshine up their ass. People don’t like it.
Instead, tell them the truth. You’d be surprised at how much people appreciate your honesty. It allows them to trust you and has some interesting side effects.
Whenever people on my team have a disagreement that’s more subjective, they come to me because they know I’ll tell the truth. On the flip side, don’t disguise mean comments as honesty.
Business is hard and it’s getting harder while it’s getting easier. That sounds strange – I know.
It’s easier to start but more difficult to differentiate yourself. We’re flooded with tactics that can have us chasing one shiny object after another.
Don’t make something that’s already tough even tougher. Embrace what you have control over, keep an eye on what matters in the long run, and pick up the pieces as much as you can.
Hard has never been the same thing as impossible.
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