At day 90 at a startup, you are no longer the new guy… and at times I feel like a long-timer. We jokingly say around the office that life at Appature moves in dog years, and I think that is likely the truth. Since you are continually focused on moving quickly and focused on the future, sometimes when you stop and look around, you realize that you’re much further along than you thought.
It’s a good “check-in” point at day 90 to stop and look around a bit. I’ve read lots of books, articles and blog posts about why startups are successful. And I think I’m starting now to see a couple of the key features that help a small team move quickly and accomplish big goals.
So for this blog, I wanted to talk about a couple key concepts I’ve started to notice and how important I believe they are: Rhythm & Momentum.
Rhythm of Progress
One of our key phrases we use in the office at Appature is ‘our biggest enemy is time.’ Why is that? Well, when you are the smaller, agile party like we are, you only have a limited window of time if you are successful before someone takes notice of what you are doing and, potentially, tries to pivot to follow your lead. And, if that ‘someone’ just happens to be a well-funded competitor or another small upstart, any head-start you had could quickly vanish.
So that’s the reason why we are continually trying to push ahead as quickly as possible to capitalize of what we perceive are advantages we have over our competitors.
And that’s where rhythm comes into play. Some may call it your rhythm or your routine or regularity (lots of ‘R’ words). But in general, its the ability to continue to have everyone make progress on their goals without major interruption. And that’s what’s key — avoiding interruption or distraction.
It’s really easy to get distracted in a startup. You can look around and find a hundred things to distract you (or “shiny objects” as I tell the founders of Startup Weekend). ‘Let’s chase this lead.’ ‘Let’s enter into this partnership.’ ‘Let’s restructure our ownership.’ ‘Let’s redesign the product.’ All of these can be valuable decisions or considerations, but the challenge is when these distractions get in the way of your progress, you quickly lose your rhythm and the wheels grind to a halt.
Over the past three months, I’ve started to observe the rhythm of the business when the team is focused and those times when the team begins to lose that focus. We set our goals late in 2010 and now are focused on execution — which oftentimes keeps us focused on what matters. And that focus keeps the rhythm alive.
What I’ve noticed here at Appature is that when we are in rhythm it is almost a quiet buzz — things are happening and you see people making lots of progress, but it feels almost methodical. For me, at those key times I know we are in rhythm, it just seems like you can hear the ‘hum’ of the engine going around you as you are kicking butt on your own challenges… and the next thing I know, I look outside at 8 pm and wonder where the day went. That’s the feeling of rhythm I’ve started to look for.
Whenever you join a new business, it takes a while to find your rhythm, and frankly to be able to recognize the rhythm of the company or organization. It took me MUCH less time than I ever anticipated to start to observe the Appature rhythm and be able to adjust my own rhythm to match the team’s. And when you get into that routine and that rhythm, it’s time to push your foot on the gas.
Momentum and the Early Stage Company
In sports, the announcers often talk about the concept of momentum. Which team has it and how the other team needs to respond to steal momentum away.
Momentum is a concept that seems to also applies to a company or any team of people. As I mentioned above, a business or a person in rhythm helps keep progress happening. That’s probably pretty obvious — distractions distract and take you out of your rhythm. But the concept of momentum is another concept that I’ve seen manifest itself very clearly in our last 90 days.
Our CEO Kabir Shahani is a believer in the Tuckman model of group development that talks about what it takes for a team to start to really perform. It’s an interesting theory and I think it truly applies as a team starts to gel: