I spent most of the last week bike riding at an organized event in central Texas. Spending over 28 hours sitting on a bike allows for plenty of time for the mind to wander. I couldn’t help but notice a ton of parallels with my riding experiences and 3 of my clients who are early-stage companies. Not that many of these items don’t happen with mature companies, but with startups, they seem much more relevant.
Sometimes things take longer than anticipated – Within my first hour on one ride, my average speed, despite not hitting any of the bad hills yet, was much slower than I thought it should have been. This was further confirmed before I finished half of the ride. I had to reset expectations for when I would finish, which at the time was a blow to the ego (very understated). Later, I downgraded my finish time even further. Thanks to an inexplicable burst of energy and potential tailwind towards the end, I made the first estimate.
As a startup, you are most likely doing almost everything for the first time. There is usually not a good roadmap to estimate how long any given project or task might take. If you are working with outside parties and they give you a timeline, add some cushion to it. For instance, if you are promised something in 6 weeks, plan for 8 weeks, that way you don’t schedule something else too soon that is dependent on the first deliverable.
Worry about things you can control – Road surface conditions and headwinds are all things that you can’t do anything about. What you can control is your effort and pacing. Oftentimes with an early stage company, you can be reliant on outside parties for critical deliverables. For one client, they were preparing for a major presentation, but the prototype was not at an expected level of completion. They simply had to accept this feature and not let it detract from the meeting.
Not everything goes according to plan – You have to be ready for things that are going to come at you unexpectedly and not let it get you rattled. For me, the weather forecasts were materially wrong almost every single day, and this was based on expectations as of each morning. There is a big difference between mid-60’s and partly sunny vs. mid-50’s and rainy, but these types of things happened many days. One client received their first architectural drawings which were nothing like what had been anticipated. It almost felt like they had to start from scratch again. However, the second version came out much closer to the original vision, although later than planned and with a lot more angst.
Keep alert for obstacles – Remember Murphy’s Law, things can always go wrong. On my rides, besides looking down the road, you had to scan side to side, as there is a lot of wildlife around you, ranging from cattle walking into the road, as well as deer and wild turkeys crossing the road. As an early stage company, money is going to be tight and there is a very good chance that some projects could end up costing more than expected. To keep this from happening, it probably requires you to veer more towards micro-managing things in order to avoid a surprise later.
Take advantage of freebies – If you get a tailwind or a nice downhill stretch, enjoy the boost it can give you. For some of my clients, they have influential people that can and want to provide them with great publicity, these things should be embraced.
With all that being said, sometimes seemingly free things may not actually be good, so tread carefully. On some downhill stretches I encountered, the pavement was exceptionally rough, so I had to stay on the brakes. Tying this back to a client situation, one of them had a good contact who wanted to pitch their idea to a prospective customer / investor, the only problem is, they wanted to do it in a very short time frame and were requesting things that weren’t done yet. So, now you have someone else attempting to dictate the pace of events and possibly putting your business in a position where you can be guaranteed to fail to deliver.
Pay attention to your body and don’t overdo it – On one ride, I was consuming almost 3 times as many calories as normal, and I was still hungry the entire ride. As you are building a company, you may be tempted to do lots of late nights to keep pushing forward. You have to keep self-assessing and know when you can put forth a bigger effort and to make sure you are on a sustainable pace. Sometimes you may have to take some time off to re-charge, it could be a day, or it could just be a few hours.
I observed many other things which I could draw comparisons on, but for now I will not expand upon roadkill and a plethora of empty beer cans along the side of the road.