🌱 Have a problem? Grow your way through it.
If a startup's scarcest resource is focus, then focus on the one thing that solves all the other things: growth.
Have a team problem? Grow faster. Have an investor problem? Grow faster. Have a prioritization problem? Grow faster.
During my YC W16 batch, I would bring a problem to Michael (Seibel) and his response almost invariably would be: just grow faster. Or, its more candid cousin: why aren’t you growing faster?
Initially I got really frustrated. Not everything is about growth, I would think. A childcare business takes careful thought and nuance to get right.
But inevitably, we would focus on hitting our next stretch metric and the previous problem would fade or become less important in the face of a different, more pressing problem.
It took me some time but I figured out what he really meant:
Team problems often pop up when things aren’t clear or working and everyone has a different idea of how to fix it. If you make growing the central thing that your team is focused and delivering on, it creates incredible momentum and camaraderie based on doing that hard thing together. It gives a common goal that everyone is working towards, not infighting on who gets what resources or whose project is better. This then gets coded into your company’s culture and DNA in a way that just continues to compound.
If you’re focused on growth, your numbers are not only better, but you get to know your numbers really well. A steeper growth curve and an inside out knowledge of your business and metrics will make fundraising so much easier (plus from a position of stronger leverage).
If your focus is growth, then your priorities are whatever unlocks the fastest growth that week, that month. There is no resorting or reconsidering of backlog priorities. There is only one question: what is holding us back from growing faster? This question generates a list from the team and ideas on what to build to bust through. The prioritization happens within this quick list, but the focus is all the same: growth. The team forgets which group they’re a part of because everyone sees and commits to whatever unlocks that prize instead of coming up with projects to be sold or shot down.
This is all the case because in the early stages of a startup, pretty much any problem you're having is likely a symptom of a lack of product market fit and therefore doubt, uncertainty, running out of cash, infighting, and being underresourced.
All of these things are made easier with making more of something people want, faster. That's what growing faster boils down to.
And that’s all you need to focus on until you hit product-market-fit. Because then, the switch flips. It’s the magical-scary point at which you start racing to keep up with the growth. The point at which problems shift to all manners of things that allow you to do right by that growth and keep going.
But until then? Until that point that most ventures and ideas and companies never get to experience?
Until then, take your one core metric (the one metric that generally means more users want what you’re making and ideally paying you for) and figure out what’s keeping you from growing it 5% or 10% or 20% a week. Are you not reaching enough new people? Are they trying it for a week and then stopping?
Or do you not really know? In which case, go talk to 5 users.
The hardest part is staying in that loop of insight, building, talking to users and growing. To keep the team in that loop.
But if you find yourself in the early days, not knowing what to focus on to get you to the other side: turns out you do know.