Thinking Big, Building Slow

CREDIT: Unsplash

The qualities that help entrepreneurs get started, are often in conflict with launching a sustainable business.

Entrepreneurs are excited about an idea, building something that never existed, and spending time selling the novel concept to others: potential employees, customers and investors. Those who are able to attract others to their business, are rewarded for their sense of novelty and ingenuity. Having a new ideas gets them started.

Once a company has early momentum, having new ideas is not enough. It’s critical to focus on the existing idea to prove it out before adding more on top. Being narrowly focused is now rewarded.

Entrepreneurs who understand this, or learn it from necessity, build stronger companies.

Tommy John started only focusing on men’s underwear. That’s it. They were doing millions in sales with only one product. Only after growing sales, customers and technology did they take the next step, adding socks. Four years later, they now offer a variety of products. They knew men’s basic’s was their clear market, but they took the necessary time to slowly get there.

Twitter started as a 140-character microblogging service. That’s it. They had requests to add hashtags, photos, and even ways to @ reply. The company knew the features they would build next, however they had little choice. Twitter’s servers were overloaded which required all development work to go towards maintenance, not building new features. Focus was forced, but it helped keep the product simple and scale to more users. Etsy had a similar path in the early days.

30 day, 90 day, and 3 year Execution Plan

So how do you measure whether you’re adding too much too soon? Stay focused on short term goals with the big ideas in your longer term plan. The best way I’ve seen CEOs do this, is using a 30 day, 90 day, and 3 year planning process. You can think of them like this:

30 days: What milestone is achievable in 30 days? Write it down and work towards it. For example, maybe it’s fixing a certain bug, closing a number of sales, growing the customer base. The milestone should be very tangible and quantifiable.

90 days: Where do you want the company to be in 90 days, or 3 months? These plans are still tangible, but have a little more runway to look forward. It may be hard to hire a head of sales in 30 days, but it may need to be part of your 90 day plan. Other milestones in this category would be: launch an email campaign to customers, close 50 sales, meet 15 VCs for fundraising, or simply keep the API working well under more volume.

3 years: Where is the company heading in the future? What do you want to achieve down the road. This plan will absolutely change, but it should be constantly considered and revisited. Examples of these ideas are: launching the product in two new cities, reaching profitability, getting to $10M in MRR, hiring an executive team, or serving 1M customers.

Creating a big, complex company starts with small incremental changes. Execution is everything. You can eventually build all of the features and products you want, but a very strong focus early on will give you more chance to get there.

Think big, execute, and be ruthless with building new features too soon.

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