In what has become one of my favourite annual traditions, I woke up early this morning to go and dig out my pink “Key Decision Analysis” notepad, and have a look at what I have learned from analysing the decisions made in 2013 – just as I did last year, and the year before.
For anyone who hasn’t read the previous posts, I follow a rather self-explanatory process which I call Key Decision Analysis, where every month I write down the most serious decisions that I make – the ones that are most leveraged, most likely to have an impact, whether positive or negative. And I also write down my reasons for choosing the option I did, and the outcomes I hope for or anticipate. Even at that moment, the process is already useful, as it allows me to think through what could potentially happen. But the really useful bit comes later. A year after the decision is made, exactly one year, I come back to it and write down what actually happened, why, and whether it was the right decision or not. Often, even a year later, things are ongoing and it’s actually not clear whether I made the right choice. However equally often, it is clear that I was either very right, or very very wrong.
And then on the 1st of January, I get up, and I go through all of the ones I analysed last year, and summarise them into some learnings to take into the new year. The way I see it, it’s a data-driven approach to making new year resolutions. Instead of just making some things up, I actually see where I can do better, or where I’m good and should double down, and then actively note that and act on it. So today, just now, I’ve gone over all the decision I made in 2013, and all of the notes I made on them throughout 2014, and written down the ten main takeaways.
1. Focus. No side projects.
This is my main takeaway for the year. I’m always tempted to give something a go – let’s say it takes 10 hours, I know that I can find time on a weekend to do it. But 10 hours turns into 20. And turns into thinking about it at times when I really shouldn’t. A great example was my bitcoin mining machine. Fun and everything, but a serious waste of time – time that I never really had. So no more side projects – I have one clear focus, Ometria, and everything I do needs to be aimed at ensuring its success.
2. Total confidence. No fear.
One of the better decision I made was choosing to publicly state my vision and what I wanted to achieve, and through that make myself accountable for delivering it. Often people don’t do this – they are afraid of failure, and so they hide and don’t tell others what they are doing. There is no benefit from this. But putting a line in the sand and telling people what you are going to do removes any safety net, and forces you to succeed. From now on I will do this with everything.
3. Don’t hire people who don’t fit the culture. Ever.
Every year this comes up. Every single year. It’s amazing how this process highlights my biggest weakness, and keeps reinforcing my need to fix it. And I do – with each year I get better. But I’m still not good enough. I still compromise on hiring sometimes – I still allow people to join our team without being 100% sure, and then this inevitably leads to an awful outcome. No compromises. If they aren’t an Ometrian, they don’t get to join, and they definitely don’t get to stay.
4. Give good people trust, responsibility and ownership.
Following on from the point above, if you’ve ensured that the people around you, the people in your life, are all exceptional, and all fit with your own way of thinking, then hand over responsibility to them. Empower them to own their decisions, to own their results. Don’t try and do things for them. Give them a goal, and then let them be in charge of getting there.
5. Product is the most important aspect of a tech company.
I truly understood and internalised this over the past year. We started out with four founders, and none of them with actual responsibility for product. That cost us many months of progress, no doubt. The concept of product management was alien to me, and I didn’t realise its importance. Well I definitely do now. And I think this applies to every business, not just a technology company. If you don’t have someone with full-time ownership of product, fix that right now.
6. Hire outbound sales early. Seriously early.
Connected entirely with the point above, we hired an outbound sales team way too late, and may have left it even longer if it weren’t for my friend James who persuaded me of its importance. An outbound sales team is the front-line – they are the people who ensure you have conversations with your potential customers. And those conversations lead to customer development, discovery and ultimately to you building the perfect product. I should have made an outbound sales person my first hire.
7. Cashflow issues ruin your ability to focus. Don’t let that happen.
Whether for the business, or personally, if you don’t have positive cashflow each month, then you spend each month worrying. Capital gets depleted, and you’re always wondering where the next amount is going to come from. The level of distraction that comes from this is huge. So fixing this should be the first priority, whether that means cutting down personal expenses, or building a plan to get a business to break-even. You don’t have to act on that plan, but you do need to have it so you can remove the fear.
8. If something bad happens, follow an official process and fix it properly.
Things often don’t go to plan. It’s great to write posts like this, and map out how you want a whole new year to go, but chances are things will come up that are totally unexpected, and divert you from your carefully planned path. When that happens, rather than ignoring them, sweeping them under the carpet, and hoping they will go away, instead it’s vital to face them head-on, through whatever official process is correct. Be upfront and honest with anyone involved, and carefully go through each step, even if it seems scary at the time.
9. Invest time and money only in superstars who think big.
This year I’ve almost completely stepped away from doing angel investments, so I don’t lose my focus on Ometria. However I’ve still got a lot of learnings from the investments I made in 2013. And the biggest one is that I only enjoy, and find valuable, the investments I make in people who think big, people who are willing to take on significant risk in order to aim high. If it doesn’t work out, that’s just life. But it’s a lot better than just plodding along.
10. If you love someone and want to spend the rest of your life with them, marry them.
Last but definitely not least – I wrote this down in the book just as “the most important decision of my life”. And as well as being the most important, it was also the best decision all round. When you have something great in life, don’t question it, don’t wonder whether you deserve it, or worry that it’s too good to be true. Grab it, and never let go.
I hope that you can relate to these lessons too, and that writing them up has been useful not just for me, but for others as well. 2014 was an incredible year, filled with intense moments and dramatic life changes. 2015 will be even better. Today is the first page of a 365 page book. We’re going to write a good one.