Honest question, why does the pace of development slow down so much at Unicorn startups?

I mean, I’ve heard of the Mythical Man Month. So I kind of get it. But it feels like development stops completely. I’m talking about total paralysis, not bloated costs. Does anyone have any anecdotes? (I’ve only worked on small teams that were in way over their head, never on an engineering team of 50+)

Two examples.

  • Stripe. I do a ton of work with their API because I’m in charge of paying out to our coaches. I have not noticed a single change there in ten months. Here’s my list of requests and here’s their blog making it seem like they actually get a lot done.
  • Slack. Same. I’m told that they did a lot of integrations and that those integrations all took engineering time. But the app experience hasn’t changed once except for the ability to add emoji’s as a reaction. Here’s a simple one: why do posts have different formatting rules than everywhere else on the site? Shouldn’t you be able to @message from within a post? Slack is a mainstream product that still inflicts markdown formatting on normal people.

I use both those products every day, that’s why I’m so sensitive to it. I haven’t noticed a single change (good or bad) in forever.

Of course, I know that product design is hard and it’s hard to get every detail. So I’m pretty forgiving of products that are unfinished. That seems normal. But unfinished and unchanging?

The closest I can come to understanding this state is a talk that @kellan gave to me about taking over engineering at Etsy. They hadn’t shipped anything in months because all of the engineers were deep into massive explorations of new technologies.

So Kellan just came in with a hard line: do the simple thing, work with our existing technologies, etc. He had these awesome shirts printed up:

And that cleared up the log jam. (Not sure how accurately I’m portraying that Etsy situation.)

How do Engineers feel about not shipping? I often feel like there’s a giant disconnect between my reason for coming to work and other people’s reason for coming to work.

When I show up to work (and am not goofing off on Medium), I feel an incredible anxiety about whether I’m making our customer’s lives better. If I don’t do anything to help them, why did I even bother coming into the office?

Is there a healthy alternative way to think?

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