Last year I came to realize that startups are an exercise in momentum. Momentum takes many internal and external forms. And is the greatest asset you can have in absence of resources.
Inside a company it could be a team’s ability to produce and innovate predictably, adaptively, rapidly, and/or with quality. It could be the accomplishment of proving hypothesis or achieving goals that validate a direction. Or fundamentals like growth, revenue or profitability.
Beyond the company, it could be the reputation of your fundamentals or perceived value. Or word of mouth about a product, a culture, and other brand goodwill. Or the ability to acquire great talent that wants to be with great talent. And raving users and customers.
When you have momentum you can control your own destiny. Like how being profitable creates greater options for fundraising — or not. Having an aspect of your business in momentum attracts other momentous advantages. For example, if you have a great team that works well together it attracts others to join it.
Momentum can turn against you, especially external momentum, a negative as we are currently seeing with many a Unicorn. The press wants to turn the narrative to a negative. The market wants to compete with you, especially if you are in a leading or innovative position.
Within the day-to-day, its also the small decisions that add keep momentum going. Rands recently wrote how the market always want to get your team members to lower their shields to being recruited:
Every moment as a leader is an opportunity to either strengthen or weaken shields. Every single moment.
As a startup leader, the hardest job is rekindling momentum if you lose it. These are the dark hours of doubt. Where you worry about making payroll. When you have to deeply question if the temporary organization you formed to prove a hypothesis, can. When you are working in the absence of resources, experimenting at the margin of what you know, and worry if you know enough.
This is when you have to, at great odds and stress, find the narrative you can deeply believe in. If you don’t, it’s better to end it quickly. That you can ask your team to believe in, and prove with them. Where good and fast decisions can start building new momentum. You circle the wagons and get ready to come out with guns blazing.
Internal momentum is made up of small iterative decisions aligned towards goals. Shipping early and often helps. Get good at forming small hypotheses, proving some of them, and get great at building upon them. External momentum is a function of them, best exercised in a sequence that forms a narrative arc.
Life is full of moments. Put them together and you get a life.