I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Boulder. It was a lot of fun and several of the questions made me realize that there are lessons learned in the startup journey that just aren’t obvious unless you’ve lived them. Part of the discussion centered around what systems (Salesforce, Hubspot, etc.) should a company deploy and when? I took the question as a proxy for trying to find the right balance between revenue growth and company growth and responded with one of my foundational principles building a company. The student I was talking with told me it was a helpful principle that she hadn’t thought about before.
So, I thought I’d share one of the principles that has helped me (and the company I founded) with my readers – the principle of “do now, optimize later!” You see, when a company is growing, there is always going to be a balance between building the scaffolding that will support the company and working on the reason your company exists in the first place – delivering value to your customers. A company that spends too much time focusing on the internal will lose its edge and likely its customers. At the same time, a chaotic growth pattern with no time to focus on structure and scale will cause implosion. Our company found early on that the balance between those two forces is temporal. That is, you almost always have to first execute at all costs without worrying about structure and repeatability, then when the pain of execution gets too great, it’s time to spend resources on building the supporting infrastructure.
When in doubt, figure out how to simply start executing. If you find yourself planning, discussing, and optimizing around a problem instead of simply attacking the problem head-on, you’re violating this principle. There will be plenty of time for optimization once you’ve learned why you need to optimize in the first place. This approach informs optimization with the issues you uncovered in execution. Otherwise, you are simply working on things in the abstract – with the risk that you’re wasting time and resources.
Here’s an analogy to drive it home. I’m a climber and mountaineer. I have had partners who have maybe just gotten a few climbing seasons under their belt and become enamored with “optimization”. How many grams of calories are we going to carry up the wall? Do I need an ice axe with a different head angle for better placement in the ice? Should I climb with two smaller ropes or one of equal weight? This is optimizing too early. The 3% gains you’ll get with a better ice axe are nothing compared to simply climbing with more focus or training harder in the off-season. Get on the route and even fail a few times. Hit your limit – THEN optimize. Once you’ve seen the edge of your true abilities, you can see where optimizations will help – they’ll be more valuable and impactful. That’s when it’s time to optimize.
Mersive Practices this Every Day
It keeps us fast-moving and allows us to find where optimization can help, where looking inward to build scaffolding is valuable. This came up recently as we were launching a new auto-provisioning service for our customers. They want the ability to simply plug in our product on arrival and have it automatically download its template settings from Solstice Cloud. This means someone had to assign that product to the customer’s Cloud account. We could have started by building software and processes to make that step of our orders process easy – but that would violate the principle of “do now, optimize later!” We didn’t yet know what challenges the process would have. So instead, we’ve begun a manual, brute force process of loading Pods into customer Cloud accounts before they leave the door. This is us starting the climb without overthinking our calorie intake.
Our customers love us for this, they get what they need, and we’re learning by doing. We’ve already identified some great places where we can streamline the process – and will likely build out a system that integrates Solstice Cloud with Salesforce, automates the onboarding into the Cloud, etc., but we’re doing it in context, while customers are already benefiting from the capability.
This is a principle that can be applied to almost anything – how you organize your day, how you lead your teams, and how you scale a company. Programmers learned this a long time ago and you’ll hear them decry “premature optimization” when building a new product. We can all benefit from keeping the principle of “do now, optimize later!” in mind.