One of the biggest concepts I’ve become more self-aware of this past year is constraints and their effect on your speed and mental cycles.
Deep down a lot of people in early stage startups spend their time and energy thinking about “is this going to work?”
Even if you have a presumption of success for your company, at the tactical level you continuously ask yourself this question when evaluating everything from your business model to the adoption of a specific feature.
The best way I’ve found to holistically manage this circumstance is by implementing concrete, measurable constraints.
The magic constraint at Troops seems to be the number 30.
Do people want this product? Create a powerpoint deck and pitch 30 people.
How much should we charge? Pitch 30 qualified opportunities price testing each one of these to understand whether what you’re thinking of charging is reasonable…and whether they would pay!
Do we have product market fit? Give 30 people who want your product, see if they use it and then whether would pay for it & renew. You can also make them pay right out of the gates before using it.
The game is all about listening, interpreting, and iterating until you find something hot. But in order to make decisions at each point in this process constraints should be your guide to act swiftly.
I think an easy way for startups to fail is to put off making hard decisions hoping that lightning will magically come in a bottle. Realistically, that just isn’t going to happen and I think it’s better to take 3 cuts at the plate then die a slow death.
A less talked about part of a constraints is their incredible ability to reduce stress.
I remember when I was starting to work on Troops with Dan, we were basically pitching powerpoint decks for months with no product hoping to get some semblance of traction.
Days were mentally challenging mostly because of the underlying feeling of “am I wasting my time?” Should I just go and get a job vs. throwing stuff against the wall?
It’s common to have these thoughts when you’re trying to get something off the ground and not having success. Ask any early stage founder.
I was voicing my frustrations to a friend and he recommending putting a time constraint on the process.
So I put a date on my calendar and said if I can’t get it to work by this date then I’m going to move on. I felt an immediate relief because there was a defined outcome that would be positive depending on how you looked at it. Either we would have figured something out which would be incredibly exciting or we wouldn’t I would probably get a good job.
By putting a quantifiable cap on a challenging time period, you can shift your focus to getting to the number vs. wondering how much longer this will go on.
With the help of caffeine and meditation, we persisted in selling decks and talented engineering friends to join our merry band. Small wins started to accumulate like convincing my friend Greg to join us. All of a sudden my 20 minute commute to our desk inside a stuffy midtown office didn’t seem so bad!
One day a notification on my calendar went off that said “re-evaluate current situation.” I smiled because by the time that the constraint I had set earlier appeared, we had secured seed financing from world class investors and had a team of 6 amazing people!
This is us on our first night out as a team.
Was the constraint responsible for the outcome? Probably not. But it certainly made the process 10x more manageable than the days where I had no idea when I’d draw a line in the sand on a tough decision.
It wasn’t that I didn’t leverage constraints before this, I was just less self-aware of when and how to use them.
Now it pretty underlies most decisions we make in the early days of Troops and certainly permeates other parts of my life : )