In failing to build a company, I have learned many things. Core to all of them is that a company is not a product. Ideas change, products change, people change. We “pivot”, rapidly, relentlessly, sometimes ruthlessly.
Managed well, change is a catalyst. Managed badly, it can be catastrophic.
In this series, I try to explain the various ways in which I failed to understand this, and how I would endeavour to do better next time. You may notice that the style of these posts is more instructive than usual. Remember that these are mostly addressed to my future self, and as such, I am telling myself what to do; you, my dear free thinker, can do whatever you want.
A product company is not the product.
A product company, or any company, is a collection of people who come together for a common purpose. (Well, and to get paid, but let’s be a little more idealistic today.)
And so, we have more to do than just make the thing. I guess you could call it “governance”. We have to decide how we go about making the thing.
At some level, this is about your development process: do you use Jira, stick Post-Its on a wall, or just yell at each other?
Values are more important than that. Your process can and will change, as will your product, but values rarely do.
At their heart, values guide you in making decisions. They might encourage you to give open feedback as soon as possible, even in public, or they might tell you that you need to wait for a private moment. They tell you whether you should ship before you’re comfortable, or only release once you’re confident you have a thing of beauty.
And they need to be shared. Explicitly. If the people running the company can’t agree on these, everyone around them will suffer.
As a founder, you need to do two things: agree on the company values with your colleagues, and make sure these resonate well with your own personal values. (If you don’t know what those are, it’s time to figure that out.)
“Right” and “wrong” don’t really exist, but they can in context.
Sometimes it’s time to change the values at the heart of the company (or in your own heart). Just like the goal, expect everything else to change too, whether you like it or not.
More in the series
- Focus on the problem, not the solution
- If the company goals change, the company should probably change too
- "Do research" is not a corporate strategy
- Your corporate values transcend your product vision
- Trust your gut, understand your heart, and open your mind
- Go to therapy with your co-founders
- Explore the terrain first
- Unless someone cares, don't waste your time
- Code is a liability; ship without coding, if possible