Argue Over Strategy, Not Tactics
Disagreements on the day-to-day will kill a startup’s momentum.
Let’s assume the following: You and your co-founder are…
b) in business because you value each other’s opinions, work well together, and trust each other
c) willing and able to move quickly, iterate, and pivot when necessary
If all of the above are true, we’ll call you a “good team”. If the above is not true, this advice is not entirely applicable to you.
We’ll start with the basic premise that you are, in fact, a “good team” and have a vision for your fledgling company. This vision is what we call strategy, or as it’s loosely defined — the basic long term goals for the company. As you and your co-founder are deciding how your startup is going to be competitive in the marketplace, this is the perfect time to have arguments and major disagreements, ideological or otherwise. Making sure you’re aligned, or at least clear about how and to what extent you’re NOT aligned, should be something you focus on when doing strategic planning for your startup.
Identifying long term goals is important time to spend if you plan to make your business sustainable. Allow me to draw a loose analogy from my days working for the U.S. Army. When in the field doing land navigation, or moving through terrain with a navigation tool such as a compass, skilled navigators tend to identify large landmasses in the direction of their next checkpoint and move in that general direction for a prescribed distance. Using a landmark as an end goal allows the soldier to focus on pacing while freeing up some cognitive space to scan their terrain for hazards all while moving forward. A less experienced navigator, on the other hand, is prone to zero in on their compass and attempt to stay perfectly on course while also counting pace, which can lead to a lack of environmental awareness because his head is down focusing on their compass. The very same can be true in the startup world. We need to remember to make some strategic decisions early and then get to work building at a solid pace. Make sound strategic decisions early (a function of your team’s intelligence), dig in to execute (ability to move quickly), and discuss your strategy occasionally to confirm that it still makes sense (trust and valued opinions) — especially in the rapidly changing environment in which startups exist.
Once strategy is hashed out, we can then focus on the day to day, or tactics. You've made good strategic decisions because you’re a good team and now it’s time to execute, yet this is where founders often get bogged down. The fear is that a bad tactical decision — that is, the thing you’re doing NOW in order to reach your strategic goals — can kill your business. This is rarely true, especially in the early stages. Some of the best advice I've received from a mentor was something to the effect of “bad decisions don’t kill a business; no decisions at all, do.” The time sacrificed and tension created by an unnecessary argument will slow down the process of getting shit done and THIS is where you can end up in trouble. Let’s jump back to the Army analogy for a second. Imagine if, while on course towards a landmark, a team stopped at every tree to not just discuss, but argue over whether they should go around the right side of a tree or the left of it. While this example might sound ridiculous (who argues over how to walk around a tree?), that’s the essence of what we do every time we halt progress to have an argument about the second to second operations of our startup.
You've already identified a strategic landmark, be it revenue, or traction, or that one big client, and as a good team you can hustle through the inevitable bad call to make it a non-issue. Now trusting your co-founder and kicking ass as a team is what will get your business built. The take away here is not to stop questioning decisions altogether, but rather to keep in mind what’s really important in the long term.
Do yourselves a favor — keep your landmark in your sights and don’t kill your momentum arguing about the little things. At the end of the day, they don’t matter.