65 days and counting
6th September 2012 · 0 Comments
Doing any kind of startup puts you in the pressure cooker. As mentioned in my most recent post, you at the very least have your irreplaceable time at risk, and you are always staring at deadlines – securing needed funding, finishing development, closing a sale, adding a key person to your team, delivering to live customers, and more. As I write this on Labor Day with 65 days to the Presidential Election, I’m contemplating how great is the pressure on the candidates and their respective teams and what lessons we can draw from that.
Imagine yourself in the situation of having devoted many years of your life to becoming a candidate for the highest office, raised hundreds of $millions, shaken countless hands, kissed all the babies, traveled nonstop across the country, fought your way through vicious primaries, and been buffeted at every turn by both your opposition and a merciless press. Now there are only 65 very short days for all that toil to result in a verdict, unless Florida recounts, perhaps. A news bit this weekend mentioned President Obama’s impatience with his staff for not keeping his long day completely filled. There’s just no extra time added as in soccer for minutes lost during the campaign, and every single one counts.
Add to this time element the fact that an unpredictable outside event could completely change the relative position of the candidates, whether it’s a geopolitical problem or an economic shock. The rules can change on you mid-stream. And, consider also how easily you can make one slip of the tongue than changes a hundred thousand votes for or against you. A bit of luck comes into play as well.
All that said, the election in November is boiling down to a very few swing states and a very narrow slice of the electorate that can yet be persuaded one way or the other. Chances are almost all of you reading this are going to miss the TV ads and the visits by the candidates because your states are already solidly red or blue.
Notice how the candidates are doing many things that are good lessons for startups:
1. Focus – As mentioned above, personal suasion and impersonal advertising are being deployed where they can produce results. There is quite literally no time to waste outside the priorities that matter. Sure you need some rest hours to maintain your stamina for what’s ahead, but you don’t want to be entering a stage of permanent rest in 65 days. Your venture may have a longer, or shorter, runway to reach some milestones, but even for bootstrapped companies there is an end of the runway looming somewhere soon.
2. Message – It’s no small challenge for presidential candidates to keep their VP’s on message along with all their many advisors and supporters, but you can be sure they’re working around the clock on this. (I’m not divulging a political preference here, but I have to think the VP debate with Biden may be the entertainment highlight of the campaign. I think we all can predict that Romney and Obama will stay very much on script, but the contrast in substance and style between Biden and Ryan could hardly be more interesting.) Similarly, when you’re creating a company that is going through the early stages of developing a product and a market, if you have surrounded yourself with a smart team it won’t be easy to keep everybody on the same page. If you’re the CEO, you won’t always be right. (A good friend told yesterday about a long and successful marriage where the couple agreed for the husband to make all the big decisions and the wife to make all the little decisions. At the end of 45 years, the husband said: “I learned they were all little decisions.”) So, whoever makes the decisions and is the steward of your elevator pitch, stick with it and keep it clear to your customers.
3. Money – The candidates are jockeying now as to whether money is better spent earlier or later in the remaining days. They can set their burn rate by the hour if they choose, and they can always be nimble to respond the shots fired back over the trenches. You are likely dealing with smaller numbers, but, if you have any capital, you do have a lot of control as to when and how that is spent. You will have many decisions to make on whether you are ready to ramp up spending on development or marketing or whatever. You’ll often be doing so in a situation where you know for sure you are shortening the runway, but you don’t really know if you’ll get a payback in time to solve that problem. The same uncertainty applies even to raising money – enough now at a modest valuation to reach a milestone that you think will attract larger money at a better valuation, or do you take all you can get your hands on when it is offered? I’ve seen both of these paths chosen many times; it boils down to a question as to whether you are more confident betting for or against yourself.
4. Luck – You too may be at the mercy of some cataclysmic event outside your control. It could be a critical API that gets yanked from you. It could be a surprise competitor who shows up with a silly amount of money. It could even be a family or personal emergency that distracts one our your key colleagues. In the last few years I had a major deal stop suddenly and permanently when a key partner dropped dead, and I’m talking somebody 50ish and seemingly in great health. So, take nothing for granted. Just count your blessings when things do work out well.
We’re entering the busy season for all things entrepreneurial in Austin, with many of us having much to accomplish before semester’s end or the start of the Holidays. It’s a great pleasure to be a participant in so much of this, and I know Atlanta is ramping us as well.
Let’s just hope by the time you read this that the Yellow Jackets are 1-0. My personal philosophy is that any time watching your alma mater’s football team is in fact given back to you, to paraphrase an old fishing tale.
<image of candidate Nixon with President Johnson by Yoichi Okamoto via Wikimedia Commons>