When you talk to experienced investors and founders of startups, they tell you it’s all about “focus”, but how do you make that actionable and structured? As the business changes and evolves, a founder (you) will also get lots of ideas (some good, some bad) from your team, customers, investors, other companies…but how do you know when or if to act on these?
For me, I developed the ITINDY approach – which stands for “Important things I’m not doing, yet”. As the ideas with merit roll in, I add them to this list, acknowledging both their value (Important) and the fact that I am not losing my current focus to act on them (Randomizing) but I might in the future. Then, I set 2 types of milestones to review the list or specific items; one is “date based” like at the beginning of the quarter or June 1. The second type of milestone and the one we use most often is a “success metric” which could be achieved in the near future or never depending on how the business grows and how right our assumptions were. Examples would include revenue (X MRR), Y number of customers, a funding round > Z, the 10th new hire…all very specific and quantified. If you chose incorrectly on a market, pricing, a sales strategy…you might never achieve these metrics which is where the date-based milestone comes in, giving you an out to make major changes in strategy.
Often, as part of my strategic plan, I have these goals aligned, so they should happen around the same time assuming the business is growing as planned like; we should hit 50 customers, 25K MRR and our 10th hire around June 1. By setting this expectation for me, the team, my investors, even customers we all get into a good flow of the things that are “important now” and the things that might be important in the future and most importantly an expectation on when we’re going to discuss and decide about doing or leaving something on the list. As we approach the date or success milestone, we also know it’s time to review, re-order the list and collect relevant data to make a decision, which drives a strategic planning session. FWIW, I usually do this in a Google Sheet where tab 1 is the high-level strategic plans and goals (months across the top, key priorities, and metrics down the side) and we keep ITINDY on a separate tab. As we reorder/group the list for strategic planning, it has a way of outlining who we need to hire next, what projects we want to fund (raise more money) or what major features to build.
I have used this method with really good success to keep the team aligned, working toward near-term goals, but with the expectation that we will keep evolving the business as a measured and methodical pace and avoid the proverbial “shiny penny” scenario. Stay focused and make your list!
P.S. – this will work for your personal life too. For example, at some point I would like to teach at the college level, write a book, hike the TA trail in New Zealand, do a transatlantic crossing on a big multi-hull, land at Nairobi airport…and the list goes on.
I think this is more powerful than most would initially understand. As an entrepreneur – you (and by you I mean me) want to say “yes” to everything. That internal optimism is what allows us to launch businesses. However, that optimism can also be our downfall if not accompanied by great focus. We started explicitly writing “what we’ll say no to” on our corporate plan. But, I love the suggestion that we also write what we’re saying no for now while recognizing it’s long-term importance.
Thanks T.A. Very useful for a young entrepreneur. Already incorporating the workflow tools
Great post, TA. One of the things most founders get wrong, even some of the most talented entrepreneurs.