Going too fast can be just as big a problem as going too slow
Ever been blocked by development resources?
Or struggled to get the data to analyse your results?
What about not having enough traffic to run an experiment?
You are not alone. When I worked as a growth consultant, a big part of the job was finding solutions to these bottlenecks. “I can’t do this because…” was not an acceptable answer and definitely not an example of having a growth mindset. It was all about the hustle; there was always a lack of time and resources.
I thought hustling was the only solution to these problems until I was Head of Growth at Heights. At first, I kept my hustle approach, proud of keeping things lean and quick. Yet, when a new team member joined and saw this from the outside, he pointed out a painful truth:
My hustle and “make things happen” attitude came at the cost of growth at times.
There is a time when hustling is the answer but at other times, spending some time building goes a long way. Mission-critical elements and time-consuming processes need to be created into a systematic structure that can just run. Too much hustling and creativity can result in half build solutions (legacy) and a heavy reliance on manual and slow processes. Those were the consequences of all my hustling at Heights.
Going too fast can be just as big a problem as going too slow.
This is why it is crucial to learn when to build your growth foundations, when to hustle and how to balance the two.
When Should You Be Building?
There are a few ways to know you are in a build phase. Sometimes the legacy of your setup starts to feel like it’s taped together and slowly falling apart; other times, it may be more subtle. There are three key indicators that it is time to work on building your growth foundations:
1. Areas That Are Mission-Critical
The first is when you are trying to scale up growth, and that part is mission-critical. You can hustle to begin with, but eventually, you may need to build.
Take how we analysed attribution data at Heights. When first acquiring new customers, it was all about hustling and getting those first customers in the door. There is no need for fancy systems, automation and efficiency (aka system to scale). So we used a simple setup: a “how did you hear about us survey” combined with Heap and Google Analytics. Easy.
But when rapid growth set in and we were about to enter a scale-up phase due to the US market entry, automation was needed to understand the data to drive decisions proactively.
Unfortunately, my manual data analysis processes were holding us back.
You know an area is mission-critical when:
- Subsequent success depends on the performance of a system
- It is a key growth loop in your growth model
2. Too Strong Dependencies
Another key indicator is if the business becomes too reliant on just one or two individuals. So you may want to look for a system that makes implicit know-how explicit and reduce dependence and exposure:
- Better documentation of processes (I love Loom videos for this)
- Knowledge transfer within the team
- Bringing in new team members and dividing the work
- Autonomy in decision making
- Building an infrastructure that allows for those changes without them
At Heights, this was another risk of my ‘hustle’ attitude. I accepted it as truth that the only way forward to make specific changes on the website was to ask the development team. I mean, changing a button colour took them seconds, so who cares? But we only had 1.5 developers meaning if they were away / busy, that simple change could take days. Investing time into a more flexible Content Management System went a long way.
3. Repetitive Work
Manual, repetitive work may seem like “it just takes half an hour a week”, but that increases over time. In some cases, you do it in the short-term as it takes too much time to automate; you prioritise key growth areas instead, e.g. a feature or experiment. Yet, too much repetitive work may require building when:
- It is causing you to act reactively vs proactively to findings
- It is taking up too much of your time and is preventing you from focusing on the high impact areas
- It is the same task each time
Don’t be afraid to invest in a tool or automate a process to save you time. It may feel low on the priority list compared to everything else, but it is what will give you more time to do the rest. For example, the new data structure I previously mentioned would have provided Heights with mission-critical decision-making data and saved hours of analysing per month.
When should you hustle?
I still stand by a lot of the hustling and make things work. When you hustle, you get creative, and you move fast. The scaling phase is a fast one, and as Reid Hoffman and Chris Yen point out in Blitzscaling:
“Blitzscaling is prioritising speed over efficiency in the face of uncertainty.” — Reid Hoffman and Chris Yen.
You need to accept some things that will break along the way. That is where the hustle comes in; you need to find workarounds for a suboptimal setup.
There are three reasons you need to start hustling more:
We often think only corporates struggle with speed. In my book Growing Happy Clients, I share four reasons why many corporates go too slow: bureaucracy, organisation size, standards, and legacy. I used to think that startups = fast and corporates = slow. But, unfortunately, my math was off; startups can be slow too and need a push to hustle:
- Startup bureaucracy — You work so closely together that you ask multiple people’s opinions about experiments, and everyone gets involved (I blame Slack Channels!).
- Big brand syndrome — Building a brand is key to the experience, so you obsess about the quality of every tiny detail even though only a few people will see it.
- Lack of expertise or time — When you are working on an area, the setup may require a considerable amount of knowledge that you don’t have in-house. This makes it expensive and slow to do properly.
- Lack of focus — Trying to do everything simultaneously results in slow progress in all areas.
- Lack of traffic — Not having enough traffic to test, meaning it takes a long time to get results or work out what to do next.
- Build complete products/features — It can be tempting to build because you don’t have the data to test, but it can slow you down when you aren’t starting with the MVP and testing where possible.
Now slowness in a startup is killing. It will be time to build in some cases, but you just want to hustle and make it work in other cases.
It is not that building your growth foundations is necessarily slow but rather building too early or too much can cause slowness.
For example, let’s say a big part of driving growth for you is improving the customer journey. You are running many tests and haven’t gotten things quite right yet. That is normal. Experiments fail a lot when you start, and it takes time to find the correct setup. You can wait for a developer to set up every test, making for a slow and expensive process. Instead, you need to hustle: make the most of what you have, test off-platform, or use a landing page builder like Unbounce. Or even just fake it by running prototypes by users and using a tool like Usabilityhub.
2. Lack of resources
This may be in terms of team, money or even just runway. You lack the resources at that stage to build, so you need to make it work as it is, or you need to move fast because, as explained before, slowness could be killing.
So instead, you get creative, pick up things outside of your comfort zone, and make things work.
3. Risk of investment
Sometimes the investment upfront would be high and is not worth the rewards at your current size. So you start with a hustle to create a ‘working’ solution before you build up that whole area. Then once it changes to mission-critical, you build.
Imagine you are testing a referral program. To begin with, you manually create unique discount codes rather than investing in a referral platform. You don’t know if referral will be a key growth driver and what format is best. Then once you see people are using the referral scheme and you’ve worked out better what motivates people, you switch over to an existing referral platform or build your own.
Building a hustle mindset
To get more of a hustle mindset, ask yourselves:
- Focus on the 20% that drives 80% of the value
- Always find a way to get things live
- Use proxy indicators to gain speed and reduce risk
- Be creative in solving challenges (e.g. use tools where possible)
- Implement solutions step by step
Build these principles into your growth team to challenge them to hustle more and get into that hustle mindset when it is needed.
Balancing Hustling and Building
I used to pride myself on my ‘make things work’ attitude, but I now see it comes at a cost. There is a time for the hustle and a time for building.
Looking back (thank you, Captain Hindsight), I would push harder to build specific areas: spending more time on improving the fundamental infrastructure problems holding us back.
You want to hustle for speed, reduce risk, and build when you need efficiency and scale.
I used the phrase mission-critical in this article multiple times for a reason: when an area is mission-critical, a suboptimal hustle setup is not good enough. Instead, mission-critical areas require building growth foundations.
Yet, I mention both sides because I’ve seen startups struggle with choosing the right approach. Continuing to build the foundations is not always the right approach either. Speed is crucial to succeeding as a startup. So ask yourself:
Is it time for us to speed up or slow down for a second?
And sometimes, you will have to slow down to speed up.
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