My team is sure to crack a smirk every time someone asks me what our timeline is. They smirk because they know exactly how I’m going to respond. I say, “we like to go fast, but we don’t hurry”.
A startup company’s strengths are centered in its abilities to move quickly and be agile. I believe that the success-rates of all of my companies is largely due to speed being ingrained in the company culture. Having said that, there is a very, very fine line between “going fast” and “hurry”.
At my current company, the Rubicon Project, our top priority is product development. The very first day that we opened our doors, we started developing. We didn’t wait for planning meetings, we didn’t discuss strategy, didn’t discuss architecture, didn’t talk to customers, didn’t look at similar or competitive products , didn’t write specs or requirements. We just started developing. Our goal was simple – get a product to market as quickly as possible so that we could get real market feedback.
You, like most people, might be thinking – how’s that work? How do you ensure you develop the right product? Well, it’s simple. First, acknowledge the fact that the first version of your product is almost NEVER the right product. It’s simply an exercise for prospective customers to tell you what they DON’T like about it. Second, we talk about the product every day. It is top of mind for everyone. We plan and develop in real time. Third, we acknowledge that we WILL waste time. What was waste in “redo” we gain in momentum and speed. Speed is contagious.
Having said that, while we make speed our mindset, we are careful never to hurry or move at a pace that we are not comfortable with. How do you know when you go from moving fast to hurrying? First, it’s when communication breaks down. It’s like running a long distance. You always want to be running at a pace where you can still speak. If you are running so fast that you are out of breath and can’t speak, your body is going to tire out and won’t be able to go the distance. Continuous communication is key. Second, it’s when you make careless mistakes. You will make mistakes, many of them in fact, but careless mistakes are a sign of hurrying. Third, and most importantly, it’s when you’re moving faster than the market.
Pace is something that is top of mind for me personally right now. My team’s ability to move fast and execute has astonished me and, as a result, gives me new found levels of confidence in the business. In less than three months, we have developed a “whiz bang” prototype of the product, have had about 30+ high quality meetings to solicit (positive, encouraging, constructive) market feedback from website publishers, have hired over 10 A++ people (all of which are firing on all cylinders), have planned a big upcoming event with an overwhelmingly positive response and have already started working with ad network partners. All of this in less than three months time and ahead of plan. It sounds like I am bragging, but that is not my intent. I’m trying to give you a real world scenario of balancing fast with hurry. The team has been exceeding my expectations, therefore, we are moving at a pace that’s faster than I had originally planned. That combined with the fact that the online advertising market is on fire these days and the problem is only intensifying, makes me anxious to accelerate our plan. Do we launch the product and the company sooner? Do we invest more capital into the business to grow it faster? Do we hire more people? How much insight should I give the board into the fact that things are moving faster than planned? (and risk elevating expectations) These are all questions I ask myself. My emotions tell me to go faster, logic and fear tell me to stay the course. My gut tells me to set some short term additional “accelerated validation” goals and measure ourselves against these accelerated goals in the next 30 days. If we can step up the pace (go fast) and it doesn’t break (hurry), then we’ll accelerate the plan.
Every team, every company and every market has a different pace. “Fast” and “hurry” are different for everyone, but you should always recognize that there is definitely a line. It’s a fine line, but there is one. Know what it is, always be aware of it. Use it to push you to move faster, but also let it humble your over-zealousness.