The only startup analogy I like to make is to the real life Tyrannosaurus Rex – a giant carnivore, awesomely represented in Jurassic Park running after Jeff Goldblum and co. In the movie, Dr. Ian Malcolm utters the semi infamous phrase “Must go faster” and I love it. For those playing at home, this line is also in Independence Day (but not really)It represents everything to me in the fast paced world of early stage companies and a constant reminder of what you need to do to stay alive.
Here is the full clip which is worth a watch:
When folks compare startups to mythical creatures and made up animals, it always gives me a laugh. Instead, I like to keep my head down and remember this phrase because its the only thing that matters. When times are tough, the competition appears to be doing something awesome, or you are running out of money – actions will help over deliberations and paralyzing “what if” conversations. Shipping + Actions solve problems. Commiserating and focussing on what you *think* is going on does not.
Perception can be reality, but what is happening behind closed doors is usually vastly different from the latest tech press. When in doubt, look around and find the people taking action, and going faster.
This is not to say that go at a untenable speed and break things, but rather to make sure you are taking action. I have always loved the expression that exemplifies this well “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” (Navy SEAL origins)
I like this manifestation, because it takes the best parts of going fast and ensures that they are also going well.
So as a reminder to those founders I work with and myself; Must. Go. Faster.
Let’s get the fun part out of the way: the word coachability auto corrects to “coach ability” or “coach-ability” but I like it combined so I am running with it.
I mentioned that this attribute is now towards the top of my list in what I look for in entrepreneurs in my lessons learned for Expa Labs 2016 and I wanted to elaborate more on why. You see when I sat down to really think about what to look for and research what has worked with a founding team, I made up a list of what appears to be the (almost cliched) list of traits. These traits are things like: execution abilities, category expertise, leadership, technical abilities, ability to hire and retain great teams, clear vision, etc… What I underestimated when working so closely with entrepreneurs every day is how much being coachable mattered.
This was exemplified when a team we were working with at Expa Labs took a bunch of feedback (some harsh criticisms too) and incorporated and summarized what happened into their own roadmap. Their vision and mission stayed true, and they were not influenced out of anything they knew they already wanted to build. However, they were able to take feedback, talk through how and why they made decisions, and understand where we were coming from. It’s hard to take feedback, especially when it is something that you built. The best part was that they came back and delineated all the thoughts down together and stated what they heard and what they were going to do about it. They carved out parts they didn’t agree with, explained how some parts were wrong and had a plan to do what was next. The best part? This was unprompted by us.
One problem that others have brought up when I share this trait is that it could be seen as a weakness. I disagree and find that [strong views loosely held] is a great way of describing the ideal personality. Perhaps the other factor in play is that this may not work for all because the Expa Labs program is 6 months of in-person help, advising and coaching. This may not be the right trait for a founder that is working hard on a problem in their own space.
One reason I write up a lot of my thoughts since I started writing is to ask for help when I need it. The hardest part of searching for this trait is identifying questions that can help judge someone’s coachability. To date, I have a few, but I am interested in learning more. The best outcome is that I can have an in-person session with a team, hopefully, get excited about the idea and give feedback and see what happens. Unfortunately, that doesn’t scale very well and there isn’t much time for that. Instead, I use my previous pattern recognition across the written responses and videos in the applications.
This is one of the reasons that Expa Labs hosts a select number of events for applicants. These have been beneficial to dig into an idea, meet folks, and generally just spend more time together. If you are interested fill out an application at Expa.com/labs. For the most part trying to figure out if a team/company can use our kind of help is the main goal. I am also first to admit that this type of program may not be right for everyone.
Back to coachability — I do not have it all figured out 🙂 Since evolving my own thesis for early stage founders for 2017 you will have to look back on the Expa Labs companies started in 2016 to judge whether or not this system worked. One interesting point someone brought up to me is that while true performance can be measured against the IRR of the capital we deploy, there are more nuanced paths to success that a place like Expa offers such as career paths for people, Expa Studio companies that can yield interesting opportunities for founders and of course the experience itself which can help people.
While my primary goal with Expa Labs is to help build amazing companies, a close second is helping the people that run them. For that reason, I am spending my time identifying those that are most coachable.