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Tag: startup

Mastering Growth with Pirates

Mastering Growth Certificate

I recently completed the Mastering Growth online course with Harvard. As an avid listener of the Masters of Scale podcast I was aware of the content, but this course really made me take the time to reflect on the themes in the context of my role as CPTO of a startup.

The podcast episode that resonated most with me was featured in one of the lectures – Uber’s How Pirates Become The Navy. The episode is about the band of startup pirates learning the benefits and behaviours of becoming a navy. Coming from Corporate land however, I needed to do the opposite and learn when to be a pirate.

Google teaches you to plan big – if it’s not in the hundreds of millions of users or $ then it’s probably not worth doing. That implies that planning and robust debate is important, and exemplifies an engineering lead culture where scale is thought through.

When shifting to a startup, although you might get hired for scale they will give you credit for speed. The company and founders has lived through a period of survival and built a credit structure around that. If you want to earn enough credits to spend on that big scale investment, you had better show you can jump on a quick dollar today. It doesn’t really matter whether that dollar aligns with the strategy or not, what matters is that you moved quickly and you closed it. You have survival instinct.

The trick is knowing when you need to show this hustle. Anyone from corporate land can tell you that quick wins buy credits, but in corporate land there are very clearly articulated strategies and even words that will help you find wins. One example is a corporate mantra of being a “trusted advisor” – just go and get a customer testimonial that shows how they relied on your advice to make a decision. Pre-meditated decision making.

In startup land, it’s more opportunistic. You need to jump on the opportunity as soon as you see it, and then work out the messaging later. A key customer mentions a tangential opportunity? Launch an MVP and then test if there’s a market for it. Worst case the takeaway message is we moved too fast – there’s no punishment for that. Best case, you made a customer happy and a dollar. Now you can put your scale hat on, market size it, and think about whether it’s something worth planning for.

Is this a good core strategy? No, if you focused on this then your ever increasing team would be in an ever bigger state of fragmentation and disarray. As a rough rule of thumb, 20% of your effort should be launching MVPs and 80% should be landing the proven ones.

Life in Start-up Country

Life of a Start-up
Living in a corporate apartment in the SOMA district of San Francisco is pretty glamorous. Cheerios, bottled pasta sauce, a coffee percolator and a laptop on the couch. Still, it’s quite a good experience and I have enjoyed the feeling of being amongst it all. Luckily I actually still get a wage from a company that is doing better than break-even, so I guess I’m not really living the start-up lifestyle.

Meetings happen faster here, you don’t have to think about timezones and languages so much and you can talk to product face to face if you don’t agree with their direction. These are things that are easy to take for granted if you work in the US. On the flip side the diversity and distance challenges in APAC make it an incredibly exciting area to be working in.

It would be nice to have the best of both worlds, but not sure when or if that will happen. I’m starting to think that the best way to operate is to make APAC as self-sufficient as possible. Borrow the good things, and go it alone in areas you don’t agree. I think we can even get to the point where APAC is the innovative region and the US can learn from us. That sounds like an inspiring challenge to me. It’s not quite a start-up, but it’s the same skills right?


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