I’ve had a few conversations over the past week with a number of founders about decisions they’re struggling with. I have some simple, but also simplistic answers and questions that surface or almost force a decision (ambiguously referenced here as “it”):

  • It either works for you or it doesn’t. If you can’t tell, it’s probably not working unless you haven’t given it enough time. 
  • Focus everything around your basic, fundamental, mission-driven goals: does it directly support reaching them?
  • Is it fundamental to your core revenue model? Can you draw a direct line from it to a transaction?
  • Does it directly support your customers or customer growth?
  • This next one I’m cribbing from our friend Phil Sugar: think of any expense in terms of cash. If you’re not sure about an employee, think of whether it’s worth handing a crisp $100 bill to them every 2 hours (or whatever their pay + taxes + bennies adds up to). Cash is real; line-items on P&L reports are more abstract. 
  • Follow your heart. I got an email today from a guy in India with a 3-year-old online marketing company who wants to participate in an incubator there. Someone he respects (perhaps out of cultural obligation) says it’s a step down, what should he do? That’s an easy one. 
  • Write a list of possible outcomes on one side of a slice of pizza (ok, paper. Craving pie right now). Next to each outcome, write down the worst that can happen. Next to that, write down what you would do next, given the worst has happened. I find that relieves the anxiety of not knowing, or not understanding the scope of an issue. 
  • Is it a high-value application of your time, low-value application of your time, or unavoidable? 
  • If it’s unavoidable, is it really unavoidable? Can you hand it to someone else, outsource it, ignore it, end it, or remove it altogether? 
The point of this isn’t to give you specific answers or even the right questions to ask, it’s to get you thinking about what matters to the business and to you.

When you go through the process of asking a lot of questions like this, your path becomes clear, not because the answer’s right in front of you, but because it’s usually already within you.

There’s a lot of murkiness in building startups. But if you focus on your mission and the basic stuff that gets you there, you’ll be fine. 

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