Tag Archives: Goals

The human you’re doing business with

Before investing in a startup, investors evaluate and develop a view on the startup’s team and market. Similarly, entrepreneurs do the same on the investor and the terms being offered.

However, it’s useful to complement this methodical business analysis with an understanding of the person that you’re partnering with, beyond their role as entrepreneur or investor. In other words, it’s useful to understand the human you’re about to partner with.

What are their values? What do they enjoy doing when not working? Do they have a family and kids and if so what do their family members do? Where and how were they brought up? When they are hopefully old and look back on their life, what do they want to have achieved?

Exploring questions like these over an informal breakfast, lunch, or dinner serves two purposes.

First, it lets you understand if your personal backgrounds, values, and goals are likely to make you good partners.

Second, in the event that you decide to partner and something goes wrong in the future, which to different degrees it always does, it helps you recognize the human behind the business problem. This makes it more likely for you to, together, show the intent necessary to overcome the problem.

One day at a time

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time”

This is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, and I have two takeaways from it.

The first is that you can’t do everything at once. If you have a goal, you have to make patient and consistent progress towards it on a daily basis.

The second is that most goals that seem very far away are actually more achievable than they appear. The analogy of climbing a mountain is helpful in explaining this.

Specifically, when you’re at the bottom of a mountain, you can’t see its peak. With each step of the climb, you see parts of the mountain that were previously inaccessible to you. To get to the peak, you must traverse through these intermediate parts. You can’t climb further than your reach at any particular step allows.

Similarly, when you first start working towards a goal, it’s difficult to envision achieving it. By making steady daily progress towards the goal, you unlock new levels that take you closer to your goal, until you can eventually see yourself achieving it.

And just like when you’re climbing a mountain, there’s no short cut. You have to go through certain places before you can get to other places.

Crossing the swamp

The higher the stakes of what you’re trying to achieve, the more personal conflicts you’ll encounter along the way.

Some people will try to pull you down because what you’re trying to achieve goes against their self-interest.

Others will do the same out of jealousy.

And yet others will do the same simply because they see the first and second groups doing so.

When this happens, you have a choice. You can either spend your time working on what you’re trying to achieve, or spend it trying to fight off these people. And only the former gets you closer to your goal.

As a NASA employee once said, “your purpose is to cross the swamp, not to fight all the alligators”.

Goals and beliefs

If you aspire to achieve a goal, there are two ways to go about it. The first is to dive straight in and hope that everything will somehow work out. You could be successful with this approach. However, I’d recommend a second strategy.

Most things that people want to achieve have been done by someone else in the past. It may not be exactly the same thing, but chances are that someone else has achieved something very similar to what you want to do. The strategy I recommend is to think deeply about what beliefs the person who achieved what you want to do must have had in order to reach that outcome. This is much more effective than simply going after the outcome.

By identifying those beliefs without which the person couldn’t have achieved their goal, you’re able to evaluate how these beliefs compare to yours. If you believe the same things, you might already be well equipped to achieve the same goal. Luck will always play a role in determining whether you reach your outcome but you can move forward confidently knowing that you have the same mindset as someone else who has achieved the goal in the past.

If you find that your beliefs are different than those which helped someone else achieve your targeted goal, then you’ll need to change your beliefs in order to increase your chance of success. Sometimes this will be easy and sometimes it will be hard. You may find that you’re not willing to make the changes to your life which are necessary to internalize a belief that’s critical to achieving your goal. If this is the case, you may want to change your goal now rather than start your journey and quit later.

This is especially true for entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur requires certain beliefs that the vast majority of people don’t have and aren’t willing to adopt. For example, among other factors you need to be pretty obsessive about the importance of what you’re doing and believe that you’re the best person to do it.┬áMost people would laugh if asked whether they held these beliefs.

Before you start working towards a goal, ask yourself whether you believe the same things that people who achieved your stated goal believe. If so, get started. If not, give your beliefs a little nudge and see if they change. If they don’t, you might want to find another goal that is compatible with what you believe.

Think big

We have a fixed amount of time to live. So it’s important that we use our limited time so as to maximize its output, however we choose to measure it (impact, fame, fortune, …). And to do so, we need to think big.

Building an e-commerce business that sells specialty cheeses is useful. Such a business can certainly be successful and have an impact.

I have nothing against specialty cheese e-commerce businesses. I’m just using them as an example to make a bigger point.

But why limit yourself to specialty cheeses when you could also offer other dairy products? And while you’re offering dairy products, why not offer the whole range of supermarket products?

Running an e-commerce business that sells specialty cheeses and one that serves the full range of supermarket products are both full-time jobs. You need more people and capital to build and operate the latter than the former, but they both require your full dedication. They’re not hobbies that you can spend a few hours a day working on.

Thinking big doesn’t mean that you need to offer the full range of supermarket products on day one. You can get your start in a specific category like specialty cheeses. This is what Amazon did with books. But you should have a bigger end game in mind.

Thinking big also doesn’t mean scaling prematurely. If your business has local operational requirements, you need to get it working with the right economics in one geography before trying to replicate it in another. Your goal should be to achieve the former rather than spend time talking about how you’re going to do or prematurely doing the latter.

The general case of this, valid for all businesses including ones without local operational requirements, is that you need to have achieved product market fit before investing time and money in scaling.

Thinking big does mean that it will be easier to motivate others to join you in pursuit of your vision. Most humans want to have an impact, and the bigger the opportunity to have an impact that you offer the easier it is to motivate employees, attract investors, and onboard partners. Since you’re also human, it’s also easier to motivate yourself.

Thinking big also means that, even if you come up short of your goal, you’ll likely end up having had a bigger impact than that which you would have had if you had pursued a smaller goal. It’s better to fall short of an aggressive goal than to achieve an easy one.

Finally, thinking big also means that you receive more criticism. The bigger your goals, the more you step on the feet of people whose self-interests benefit from you not meeting your goals, and the more jealous many people who don’t have such goals become of you. But, at worst you get used to the criticism and at best you use it to further fuel you towards your goals.

Taken altogether, it’s worth thinking big.