You Can’t Control Speed At Scale

In the early days of a startup when you want to get something done you can simply make it happen.  Pull all-nighters, grind through the weekend or call in favors to get the help you need right when you need it.  Good founders get shit done, fast.

Founders are in a rush.  Time is money and since they own the company, it’s their money.  Moreover, in the early days that money is less about getting rich than it is about survival.  If they don’t hustle, if they don’t make it work, if they’re too late, they’ll lose money and have to get a real job.  The stakes are high.

As the operations scale, founders have to let go.  They have to let other (hopefully more capable) people take over aspects of the operation.  If they don’t, the business can’t grow and often that means it won’t survive.  But when founders delegate, they lose control over more than the details; they lose control over the speed.  They can’t sprint through a series of all nighters the way they could as a 1 or 2 person show.  Understandably, losing control over the speed of an operation can be very frustrating for founders.

So what is a founder to do?  First, they have to accept it.  As the team scales they’re going to increasingly be stuck in third gear.  Fifth gear is no longer an option.  That sucks, but it’s necessity and it’s a sign of progress.

A founder, however, doesn’t have to entirely cede control of the overall speed of the operation.  While they can’t change their team’s level of throughput, they can ensure that they produce the right things first by managing the sequencing of activities.  If you put the operational processes in the right order you can often get to your destination faster.

When you’re in a leadership role you get the advantage of knowing more about what is going on across the organization than anyone else.  You’re privy to almost everything.  With that context it’s much easier to appropriately prioritize what is important, what will drive the organization forward, than can someone who only sees part of the story.  Without the guidance of founders more junior folks have limited context, they tend to spend time working on less important things, slowing the company down. When the team works on the wrong priorities, it’ll slow you down. It’s like a car swerving all over the road.  It’s a lot faster to drive in a straight line.

Founders can prevent “swerving” by being present, checking in on people’s priorities and leading.  While founders might be stuck in third gear carefully keeping the car moving straight ahead can substantially increase how quickly you get to where you want to go.

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