Starting a new company in a brand new industry is hard. You are inventing something that the world has never seen before. It’s not like opening a restaurant or a dry cleaner where you can follow best practices, plagiarize ideas from successful competitors, or talk with others that have done it before. It’s all new.
How do you manage that newness? How do you decide what needs to be done today when you sit down at your desk? There are a million different possibilities and you know that the “still around in five years” statistic for startups is grim, and especially scary when it involves innovation. You also know that you don’t have a boss or professor watching you so you could spend the day on frivolous activities or checking your email over and over throughout the day. Nobody will know except for you… at least for now.
I handle this problem with dozens of strategies which I’ll write about later, but my favorite is to set public goals. Putting a date out there for the world to see creates a form of commitment that is partly inspiring and partly panic inducing in those moments when you are laying in bed inside your thoughts. Making your goals public means that the quiet failures that we all endure suddenly become a source of potential shame instead something you can justify and explain away to yourself. Now you are answerable to somebody… everybody.
This is especially true when you have a goal that you don’t have to accomplish. If you are can’t pay your rent, you are pretty much forced to get a job so you can have a place to live. But those last 20 pounds? Maybe you’ll just not wear your swimsuit in public this summer. Learning guitar? You can always do it later. Your future self is always ready to be loaded up with difficult goals, even though today you are too tired to do anything but try to hit level 34 on Candy Crush.
It’s also easy to set public goals that can be easily accomplished or easy to lie about. You set a goal to start saving for retirement? Well, if you save one dollar, you officially saved something for retirement and when somebody asks you how you are doing, you won’t be lying when you say you are doing it. But set a goal to have a million dollar net worth by age 30 and it’s a little harder to lie when you are still managing that Taco Bell.
So today I’m setting a public goal. To move our company forward, we need to first build a usable prototype of our VR/resistance/workout/game system. What does that mean exactly? Good question. How do I define the goal for our team without making it too difficult, too set in stone and hard to change (especially as we plan to iterate and learn as we go), or too easy to lie to ourselves about accomplishing?
Easy to lie about idea:
“Create a usable prototype by December 9th, 2016.”
Well, if we create a crappy prototype that allows us to “run in place” in VR, well, I guess that is a workout and if we add a timer then it is kind of a game. Right? Let’s celebrate and have a party! We are amazing innovators!
Obviously, this would be a false victory and we wouldn’t be much closer to accomplishing our larger mission. It’s easy for us to be lazy and not reap the rewards of a public commitment.
Too set-in-stone idea:
“Create a prototype with these exact features and specifications by December 9th, 2016.”
This sounds like a better idea because it forces us to do our research, create a detailed plan to execute from, and gets us all on the same page. If one of the specifications is that we must create a pneumatic resistance system that has a minimum force of 100 pounds and a resolution of 0.1 pounds per 100 ms, integrated with the Unity game engine using a specific type of code and plugin, well, that doesn’t give us any room to learn or iterate.
What if it becomes obvious in the next few weeks that this system won’t work and we have to go back to the drawing board? We can either move forward with the wrong product, or change it and miss our public commitment. Hmm… that doesn’t work.
Instead we decided to set this goal:
“On December 9th, 2016, I will cancel my gym membership forever and only use the Black Box VR prototype for my workouts.”
I’ve had a gym membership since I mowed lawns to pay for it when I was 14 years old. Quit the gym? Never lift traditional weights again? This is a super scary thought for somebody who thinks of himself as the type of person that lifts. I can’t stand the idea of not being healthy and fit. Will I get flabby and weak? How will I look and feel?
With this type of goal, every decision we make toward our prototype will have to move us toward our ultimate company mission of replacing the traditional, outdated gym environment with something that works better, is more likely to create consistency, and is an enjoyable, addictive experience. We can build based on our current ideas or completely change based on what we learn, but the end result is the same.
So there it is. Our team’s public commitment to quit our gym memberships by December 9th, 2016, six months from when we set our goal. As of right now, our Apple TV gives us this much time left:
You know what? Now that I think about it, I need to end this blog post right here. Time is ticking.
CEO, Black Box VR
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