Why *You* Should Never Delay Decisions

Everywhere on Medium, we see en-vogue postmortems from startup founders that slipped into the deadpool. Heady stuff. What worked, what didn’t. A fair heaping of self-justification and navel-gazing validation.

There are two ideas that we see constantly from founders:

  1. That they were profitable except for (enter some thing that every business has to deal with)…
  2. They waited to long to make a move that they had an inkling was a good idea.

Our first issue — the “profitable except-for” fallacy is simple delusion. It’s just justifying their time and robbing themselves of lessons. A ton of people were “almost Facebook,” or that they “almost made it.” Clinging to this idea — if only ______ then I would be just like Steve Jobs is nice for our ego, but hell on our future chances.

The second one — is the biggest risk that we realistically face. We see the risk in making change.

But what about staying the same? Where’s the risk there? How do we measure it? Netflix had to guess and realize that we’d rather play a limited catalog on our televisions than deal with red envelopes. Android started with the simple intention of building an operating system for digital cameras. Both of them had to pivot to stay relevant.

Fred Wilson has a fantastic post about kicking the can down the road. Every business has to make tough choices. Many of them will make a lifelong impact on the business. Some of them are relationship issues (founders aren’t working in alignment). Some of them are systemic things (paying too much for leads). Others are more strategic (are we selling the right packages).

Almost always, it’s better in the short term to let status quo be the same. We see the hassle of change. But never the risk of staying the same.

The timeline might be days or weeks, but there is a seductive quality to leaving things be. There will be a transaction cost (switching from one system to another). Transition costs (losing the revenue or value that the old system had) and risk: having a tough conversation with a founder can put relationships at risk.

Our company has been around for 6 years, and our ability to continue is in doubt. This isn’t because we’re not doing great work — we are. We have clients, and revenue and we have systems in place that are meant to deliver. Our peril is because we ignored things for too long, and paying our “legacy costs,” is going to be a tough road.

A Real-World Cost Of Putting Things Off

Change is always harder the longer you wait to make it. Our current political system is evidence of this.

Plus, the longer you put decisions off, the more extreme measures you need to correct it (and the more risk you incur when you make transitions.)

My own company — Simplifilm — had chugged along for 5 years with me and a designer as the primary principals. By resisting change early, later, it seemed that the solution was exercising the buyout agreement that we had.

We (both) put up with a lot of misalignment for so long. We make videos, and the best metaphor is that I wanted to build BMWs. He wanted to build Ferraris. The two aren’t the same. The customer experience isn’t the same. The issue was always around. It had inertia. And addressing it became a “why is this just now coming up,” deal. Our (then) solvable issues got harder and harder to solve the longer that we put up with them.

That pressure hurt our friendship (we’re still friends). It put financial pressure on other areas of the company (that was a bigger wound than I thought it was), and we didn’t have a framework for resolving it. We kept going, both of us frustrated with each other. A milestone was achieved and the buyout seemed like the correct thing to do.

In large part, by letting a solvable issue go for 3+ years, I’m still paying for it today. My company is different than it was and would have been had we solved the issues more quickly. I don’t know if it was better or worse. Our peril lies in choices that we let go for a long time, not the condition today.

It’s *always* harder to resolve issues tomorrow than it is today.