A startup’s evolution from a small team to an organization is a lot like our transition into adulthood: There isn’t one.
Suddenly, you’re pulling an all-nighter to make your first work deadline or scrambling to pay the electric bill. Responsibility becomes real very quickly. Often, we don’t feel prepared.
Now more than ever, founders are faced with similar realizations about their company’s growth.
“Challenges you would have faced during your first or second year are now things you deal with in month three,” Sameer Al-Sakran explained.
“The sooner you can have an understanding of how all of the nuts and bolts of your business (i.e. finding an office, delegating tasks, and raising capital) will fit together the better.”
Companies have to get more sophisticated at executing the business side of things.
“Planning gets you ready for when the stress and drama hits. It qualitatively changes how companies grow.”
Inspired by this assertion, Sameer, and his co-founder Allen Gilliland created Metabase to help startups seamlessly navigate their business analytics.
Initially built for companies in Expa’s startup studio, the team recognized the influence Metabase could have on other businesses and launched a standalone product in October. You can download the software for free here.
Simply put, Metabase is “analytics for humans.”
“It’s a simple way for people to ask business intelligence questions that come up throughout the day,” Allen said.
“For many companies, things move from ‘I’m curious about this,’ to ‘I’m on the phone with a client and need to sound smart.’”
Metabase enables anyone in your business to quickly and independently access the data they need.
Founders, advisors, and investors, Sameer and Allen commit themselves to helping startups avoid the growing pains that accompany scaling. In their episode of Beyond the Headline, they share how writing down your “unanswered questions” can accelerate your team’s success.
Whether you’re a month into your first startup or closing your Series D, every company doing innovative work faces ambiguity; Which, when left unaddressed, can be paralyzing.
Starting today, in a Google document or via Slack, have your team members write down challenges and ideas they are uncertain about. They can be organized by a specific product launch, department, or general queries.
Here are a few examples from the Metabase team:
- Five things we’re concerned about with the latest product launch.
- Five things we should do more research on.
- Previous challenges that have been resolved.
Remember, and this will come over time, to only record things that matter.
“Don’t spend time or energy writing down things that don’t matter,” Sameer said. Adding ambiguous notes to the document defeats the purpose of the exercise.
While there are numerous benefits to establishing a writing heavy culture, prioritization and self-awareness have the most long-standing effect.
Challenges become less intimidating when you write them down.
In addition to the physical act of seeing them on paper, “when you know what you are worried about it becomes a very low drama worry.”
In many instances, you’ll recognize problems that don’t need to be immediately addressed and you can choose a time to revisit them.
As you filter those out, others will move up in the queue enabling you to effectively organize your team’s efforts.
If you’re struggling with prioritization ask yourself: “What is the one thing that we can do today that will change the odds of our success?”
It’s easy, and ambitious, to choose “Raise $35 million Series B” from your list, but you need to be radically “honest about what you are actually capable of getting done.”
For Sameer, the day’s most important task can be as small as emailing a journalist, tweeting an update, or writing a blog post.
“You want to have small, bite-sized things that you can get done,” he explained.
“If nothing else happened today this action will move the entire company forward.”
“It’s the heartbeat of your day.”
The only way to establish writing as a unifying force in your organization is to cultivate and encourage deep self-awareness.
You want to be aware, at any point in time, what your team is thinking about.
Reading and re-reading these documents will enable you to uncover what each member on your team is uniquely worried about.
The result is a 360-degree view of your organization.
In addition to overall business intelligence, you’ll gain a deep understanding of where team members are on their growth trajectories, if they’re facing any bottlenecks, and how individual projects are progressing. The constant reviews will help you identify problems with current plans that you can address before they’re implemented.
The practice of writing your uncertain thoughts is equally beneficial for you personally. You can apply all of these tactics to tackle your own goals and to do list.
Writing acts a mirror to reveal your conscious and unconscious blindspots.
“You have to be honest with yourself about what is working and what’s not, especially as the company starts to grow.”
“Accept the things that are working and double down on them.” Be cognizant about what’s not and address them.
At Metabase, they debrief by asking questions like: “Did we do the wrong thing and it didn’t work? Did we do something that was almost right and we should try again?”
“You have to be able to review your goals. Being aware of your team enables you to empathize and understand where they are coming from.”
It’s about stepping back, trusting the people, and the process.
To gain deeper insight into how Sameer and Allen are using this technique to achieve their goals at Metabase sign up for their mailing list, and if you’re technically minded, explore their work on the Metabase Github.