Ready, fire, aim: the wisdom of just getting started
I was reading a transcript of an interview with an all-star athlete that's now investing in companies across the country. Now that he's retired, he said for his investment arm that one of the things he puts an emphasis on is an extremely detailed plan of how you're going to get to where you're going. I thought that was actually terrible advice for an investor looking for startups to invest in and a terrible example for founders.
Early on in my career, I would create these really detailed business plans. When I went through Y Combinator and learned from Paul Graham, he told me that business plans actually show a lack of knowledge of how these things work.
Just get started
There's so much you don't know until you launch. You can have a three or four page business plan for sure, but a 20 page prospectus for where you want to go is just so actually counter to what I've seen work in the last 11 years of creating things and in the last 7 years of investing in companies around the Bay Area.
It is actually far better to just get started, not having a plan. Instead of this massive conceptual theoretical exercise, get started with it. Pull on a thread of something that you wish existed in the world. Get the tiniest version out there so that you can start to get feedback and get the collaboration of customers or potential customers, which is far more important than your own musings in your detailed plan.
Ready, fire, aim
The phrase ready, fire, aim is used colloquially to suggest an easy way to make mistakes. But, I actually think ready, fire, aim is far better of an approach to entrepreneurship than aiming and then firing because it’s an endless exercise to aim perfectly at a target that you cannot see.
It makes perfect sense in basketball to have a very detailed approach to the game because you know what the game is. You know what the rules are. But if I were to tell you, aim your arrow at the target and fire, and there is no target (or you have to figure out the target), then you could spend quite literally an endless amount of time figuring out where it should be. It's like saying, we're going to play a game: you move first. And you sitting there being like, well, what the hell is the game? What, how do I move? You can sit there and ask those questions endlessly..
I think getting started is the single most important thing towards that end goal more than anything else. It is the easiest way to start to invite the most critical aspect into the equation: to get customers and potential customers to start collaborating with you and give you feedback.
Drawing from French art
This has been said in so many different ways. “Launch your first version when you're embarrassed” by Reid Hoffman. “Minimum viable product” by Steve Blank and Eric Reese. All of it comes down to just getting started. In French art, there's a concept of object to they art.
You take a block of marble or you take a block of wood and you see what that block of wood wants to become. You start carving away at it, but ultimately it has its own groups. Trying to force it to become X when its grooves actually will far, far more superiorly allow it to become Y is something that you really want to lean into as a sculptor.
The math of feedback
The last thing I think about when I think about an extremely detailed plan of “how you're going to get from here to there” is usually the here to there is usually years apart. In that scenario of trying to think 12 months out or even 5 years out, it’s so critical to incorporate the feedback of all of the information you're going to gather in the next three months.
When you're first getting started with something brand new (just you and a co-founder, just you and a piece of software), you might want to go from 5 to 25 customers over the course of 6 months. That's growing about 20% month over month. The surface area of that growth means that every 90 days, you have 3x the surface area of growth: information, collaboration, feedback from the customers.
Maybe you're going from 500 to 2,500 customers in 6 months. That growth graph going up and to the right is growing 3x the surface area every 3 months. Said more simply, you're getting 3x as much information every 90 days as you had the previous 90 days.
Every single time that you sit down and write out a 12 month finely detailed plan, it takes you 3 months. You're going to continually miss out on the next 90 days where you're going to have 3x the information you had in the previous 90 days. That's only on the next 90 days, the next 12 months you're missing out on far more than that!
Maybe that works for a ten-year-old mature business. I have my doubts, having seen things in mature environments like Airbnb for two years.
It is far more important to have where you are today, where you want to be in 90 days, where you want to be in 12 months, but then be very flexible each day in each week, as you gather more and more information.
Ready, fire, aim. Get started.