Making The Right Calls
Prerequisites and steps to making the right decisions for your startup.
I have unwittingly made some bad decisions in my 28 years on this earth, but everyday I make better decisions. Reflecting on this, it is clear that making the right calls, large and small, requires certain prerequisites and a thoughtful decision-making process. These considerations are especially important in a startup, where you will never have perfect information when making a decision.
The success or failure of your startup results from nothing more than the series of small, medium and large decisions that you act on — make more right decisions than wrong decisions and your startup will succeed. In my experience, the best startup decisions have come when I’ve had certain prerequisites in place and have followed a thoughtful decision-making process.
First, The Prerequisites…
The conditions below must be met before you start the decision-making process. This is imperative as most bad decisions that are made inadvertently are made because some or all of these conditions are not met before starting the decision-making process.
1) Follow Your Passions: For most world-class entrepreneurs, passion does not come primarily from the prospect of financial gain or personal notoriety; it comes from an innate desire to change the world. To make the right decisions for your startup, you must believe that if your startup succeeds, you will change the world in the ways you desire. The more your startup aligns with your passions, the more confident you will feel that you are making the right decisions for the right reasons.
2) Embrace The Reality: You have to be able to properly assess and accept reality. Smart entrepreneurs do not see the glass as half-full or half-empty, they see a glass with a certain amount of water. Then, they decide to drink the water, or fill up the glass with more water. To make the right decisions, you must first see things as they really are.
3) Practice Some Balance: Your mind, body, and soul must be balanced before you can make good decisions. This is perhaps the most important prerequisite, and one that most entrepreneurs brazenly ignore. Startup culture encourages over-work and over-play; to be balanced you must also be mindful of your health and spiritual life, not just stimulating your mind.
Second, The Decision-Making Process…
Only after you know that the above prerequisites hold true, you can move on to the decision-making process. Below is a decision making process that works for me (inspiration), but you may follow a different process.
Let’s setup a scenario and walkthrough a decision-making process. In our sample scenario, we are trying to figure out the primary customer type to market your startup’s solution to.
1) Identify The Decision: Clearly identify the single decision you want to make, do not let extraneous things fog it up. In the sample scenario, a decision you might be making is “Out of my entire market of potential customers, who is my startup’s single highest revenue-generating customer?”
2) Identify Your Options: Lay out the different options you have based on your own knowledge, keeping in mind the values that are important to your startup. In our example, you will now identify the different customer types that can generate revenue for your startup and being realistic, you might eliminate certain customer types at this step as they are not feasible to reach.
3) Gather Information: Collect as much information as is pragmatic about your options. Research different customer segments and talk to the right experts to gain further insight and reduce your blindness. In our setup, you may end up eliminating a certain revenue-generating customer type, because it doesn’t help you make progress towards changing the world in the way you envision.
4) Make & Implement The Decision: Finally the fun part, you get to make a decision and act on it! The decision should incorporate the information you have gathered, your gut instinct and align with your startup’s vision. In our example, you would make a firm decision on what customer segment you will target and start marketing to them (the marketing strategies you use may be a separate decision).
5) Evaluate The Outcomes: Evaluate, objectively, if you made the right decision. Some questions you can ask in our sample scenario include: Is my startup solving a real need for this customer? How much revenue has been generated? Am I convinced that this was the right customer to target or should I target another customer? If you have balance in your life when thinking through such questions (i.e. your mental well-being is not solely dependent on startup success), you can make a proper evaluation. If you conclude you made the wrong decision, assure the prerequisites are really met and start over from step 1.
In a startup, as in life, you will seldom have enough information to conclusively make the right decisions. To a certain extent, you have to rely on your gut instinct, especially as most decisions are interdependent (e.g. picking the highest revenue-generating customer may not lead to the most cost-effective marketing strategy).
When decision-time comes, regardless of if it is a small or a significant decision, you should try and assure that you are passionate for the right reasons, thinking realistically, practicing balance in your life and following a thoughtful decision making process. If you do these things, you will you make the right calls more often than not, and your startup will succeed.
Naveed Lalani is a product and business strategist advising early to mid-stage startups. Previously, Naveed was Chief Strategy Officer at DonorNation.org, and Co-Founder at Rally.org. Naveed gives back by advising the Thiel Fellowship and leading entrepreneurship initiatives at Ismaili Professionals Network. Naveed also dipped his feet in angel investing; investing in Oha.na, whose team was acquired by Facebook.
Thank you to @ShehzanD, @jhreha, @ztalib, @ritika_puri and@kevinma1992 for reviewing drafts of this article.