Spending time on the wrong stuff

I’ve worked at small, fast-growing companies, large, slowly dying companies, and monolithic ones so big that no one person knows anything.

At dying companies, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out why something ISN’T working.

  • Why is the revenue going down
  • Why are customers complaining
  • Why are employees leaving for other jobs
  • Why aren’t we growing

You run experiment after experiment, and nothing moves the needle. Then you spend the next four weeks optimizing the same failed experiment. Small, insignificant wins are celebrated and then, two weeks later, forgotten. Instead of working on new things, most of the time is spent protecting the status quo. All this busy work is like rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.

At fast growing companies, the bulk of your “data analysis” is spent trying to figure out why new features worked SO WELL.

  • Why did customer numbers double again
  • Why is revenue up again
  • Why are all the metrics up this month when it was flat this time last year
  • Why did we beat the budget again

At fast growing companies customers are your secret sales team as they refer your product to their friends. Happy customers also offer up great product ideas and they use your product in ways you never intended. It’s fun, exciting and fluid.

Take a breath, and ask yourself. Where are you spending your time at work? Is it busy work or are you holding on for dear life as the product grows.

Trust me; it doesn’t have to be that hard. I’ve seen a lot of brilliant people grind themselves down in slow-growth companies , while mediocre folks have found a winning growth company, buckled up, and been successful.

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Zombies in boom town

The next few years will be a time of massive growth for the economies around the world. My lesson after the 2008 recession was to make sure I was in the right company to ride out the boom times. Hard work, persistence and integrity are table stakes. 99% of your success over the next 5 years will depend on the company you choose.

It’s mostly about being in the right place at the right time, but you gotta make your luck and get yourself well positioned to partake.

Some companies will thrive as business travel springs back, tech hubs emerge because of remote work, and new software is built to support changes in the way we work and play.

Geopolitics won’t be the same in 2022 as businesses and consumers shift away from China as a consequence of COVID.

Weaker companies will die as they get eaten up by the faster-growing new competition.

Other companies will limp along like zombies, the equivalent of the walking dead. These zombie companies will trudge and decay over time as all the good people leave to start their own things or get poached. It’s a slow death, and a lot of loyal employees will rot in the carcass.

Choose wisely over the next 6 months. Hitch your wagon to a thriving company that’s attracting smart and motivated people riding the new growth wave.

There will be a massive opportunity cost if you consciously or unconsciously decide to ride out the boom in a zombie company. It’s probably better to be in a business that implodes quickly because it’ll force you to make a move.

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures. 

Shakespeare

Risk free glimpes

“I am not young enough to know everything.”

Oscar Wilde

Sometimes being young and ignorant is the best state of mind to start a business, emigrate, quit your job, sail around the world. If you knew all the risks and peril ahead of you, then you probably wouldn’t start.

The upside of age and experience is that you skip the upfront thrash of mistakes and false starts.

The downside is that you know where all the problems are, so you don’t leap until there’s limited downside. Unfortunately those risk free moments are scarce.

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