Keeping a 20,000 Foot View One Day at a Time

How do you maintain a 20,000 foot strategic view of your startup and business, while frantically managing the day-to-day efforts?

hang gliding

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because it’s something I’m dealing with now. Immediately after launching Standout Jobs, things accelerated incredibly. And that should be the goal of every startup. Prior to launching you’re focused primarily on product development, but after launch there are a million other issues to deal with. Acceleration is good. It’s certainly better than the alternative! But how do you manage that – most of which involves day-to-day issues (like acquiring customers, customer support, managing the team, handling bugs, etc.) – while still keeping an overall eye on your strategic vision and goal?

You Had a Vision Right?

Most startups launch with a goal. Big or small, you’re launching a startup with a purpose in mind. And presumably some amount of strategy went into setting that goal and vision, and some amount of strategy will be needed to succeed. Moving the ball forward each and every day is important, but there are always larger forces at work, and bigger picture issues to deal with.

So how do you do it?

Maintaining a 20,000 Foot View of Your Startup

It’s definitely easy to lose sight of the 20,000 foot strategic goals and vision when battling daily issues. What’s worse, is how easy it becomes to change strategies quickly when you lose sight of what you were originally setting out to do. Strategies, goals and visions will change. There’s no doubt about that. But it strikes me how easy it is to change gears too quickly because of factors “on the ground” … without stepping back and taking an overall view of things.

On that front, here are some things I’ve been thinking about further:

  • Have a Strong Vision. The stronger your initial vision and goal, the better. That doesn’t mean your business needs to be dedicated to saving the planet, or some massively grandiose mission of dethroning Google and being worth $20 billion in a single year. But whatever your goal – keep it top-of-mind, believe in it, and reference it on a regular basis. Chances are when the going gets tough, you’ll ask yourself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” Having a strong vision will remind you. And the stronger it is, the harder it is to deviate from it in a blink of an eye.
  • Have Strategy / Vision Meetings. Take time out of your insane schedule to meet with your other founders and team members to look at the big picture. It’s a good time to re-align and re-adjust goals without radically changing them on-the-fly. At Standout Jobs we haven’t succeeded at doing this a lot – especially with the team – but it’s something that I do think is important.
  • Make Small Adjustments Before Big Ones. The path of least resistance is probably a good one to take. You don’t want to get out of the gate, launch your startup, and five nanoseconds later change everything up. Try and make small adjustments – fine tune things – and see how it goes from there.
  • Stay Analytical & Objective. Having a strong mission is great, but if you’re too focused on it and unable to see problems and make changes you’ll be in trouble. So stay analytical and objective. Measure as much as you can. Don’t make changes blindly.
  • Keep Your Options Open. Options are always good. So any strategy or change in strategy that reduces options is risky. If you can make small changes to your vision and increase your options, then you’re heading in the right direction.

Do Change Right

You can’t be afraid of change. Change is inevitable. And not just itty bitty change…but massive change. Most people will tell you that your company will look completely different and be selling something completely different (in a completely different way) from the time you start the business to the moment you end it. So you have to expect huge amounts of change and colossal shifts in strategy and vision.

But the risk lies in losing sight of your original intentions because you’re too bogged down in the day-to-day. When that happens, it becomes too easy to make big, strategic mistakes. It becomes too easy to change things for the sake of changing, or run down a path that looks good at that very moment, only to realize it wasn’t the right way to go.

So how do you keep focused on the 20,000 strategic view when most of your time is spent on day-to-day issues?

March 5, 2008 Posted in Startups by

  • http://www.goodcustomerserviceblog.com Jason Rakowski

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

  • http://www.goodcustomerserviceblog.com Jason Rakowski

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

  • http://www.techcfl.com Robert Dempsey

    Ben,

    i definitely agree with what you are saying here. One of the greatest mistakes a company can make at any stage, but especially in the start up stage, is getting too far off from core. Having the vision documented and looking at it regularly can help to reaffirm where you were going in the first place. It is easy to get caught up, but you have to come back lest you stray too far off the path and sink in the muck.

  • http://www.techcfl.com Robert Dempsey

    Ben,

    i definitely agree with what you are saying here. One of the greatest mistakes a company can make at any stage, but especially in the start up stage, is getting too far off from core. Having the vision documented and looking at it regularly can help to reaffirm where you were going in the first place. It is easy to get caught up, but you have to come back lest you stray too far off the path and sink in the muck.

  • http://www.toolskeep.com mac

    I know how difficult to build and maintain a company. It takes me into 3 years just to make some profits into it. A very well planning, strategies, a good staff, great idea and lots more. It’s really hard at first. But remember to do it step by step. Finish what you start and dont just leave it undone and make new step. Big mistake..

  • http://www.toolskeep.com mac

    I know how difficult to build and maintain a company. It takes me into 3 years just to make some profits into it. A very well planning, strategies, a good staff, great idea and lots more. It's really hard at first. But remember to do it step by step. Finish what you start and dont just leave it undone and make new step. Big mistake..

  • http://http//anjamerret.com Anja

    Listen to your customers every day. That’s how you keep in touch with your business and allow it to grow in the right direction.

  • Anja

    Listen to your customers every day. That's how you keep in touch with your business and allow it to grow in the right direction.

  • http://www.audiomecca.com/download-music/ Download Music

    This is a dilemma faced by all business people. Most failures are due to getting bogged down with day to day details, and not giving the business the strategic thinking that it deserves, primarily due to lack of time, and surprisingly enough, being comfortable in the day to day management.

    As a consultant, you will be the first to advise your client to delegate. If it is possible in the start up, why this golden rule cannot be followed is beyond me. If it is a one man operation, the only answer to your question is to play for time to get out of the day to day matters by recruiting some one else to do it and then take off to do what you need to do.

  • http://www.audiomecca.com/download-music/ Download Music

    This is a dilemma faced by all business people. Most failures are due to getting bogged down with day to day details, and not giving the business the strategic thinking that it deserves, primarily due to lack of time, and surprisingly enough, being comfortable in the day to day management.

    As a consultant, you will be the first to advise your client to delegate. If it is possible in the start up, why this golden rule cannot be followed is beyond me. If it is a one man operation, the only answer to your question is to play for time to get out of the day to day matters by recruiting some one else to do it and then take off to do what you need to do.

  • http://www.dropshipdesign.com P Bear

    good points… i work at a startup company and sometimes i wish i could get away and fly, like in that picture u have posted :/ You just gotta stay focused see the big picture.

  • http://www.dropshipdesign.com P Bear

    good points… i work at a startup company and sometimes i wish i could get away and fly, like in that picture u have posted :/ You just gotta stay focused see the big picture.

  • http://cuberules.com Scot Herrick

    It’s tough to be strategic and be working all of those hours. While all of these are good suggestions, you probably won’t be strategic if you are in the office where all of those pressures will continue to be in place.

    You have to get away, even if to a different floor. Take away the communications tools (read: Blackberry), take away the cell phones, and have an agenda around strategy.

    If you’re in the middle of the forest, it’s tough to not look at trees. Use your physical location and agenda to change the perspective on a regular basis.

  • http://cuberules.com Scot Herrick

    It's tough to be strategic and be working all of those hours. While all of these are good suggestions, you probably won't be strategic if you are in the office where all of those pressures will continue to be in place.

    You have to get away, even if to a different floor. Take away the communications tools (read: Blackberry), take away the cell phones, and have an agenda around strategy.

    If you're in the middle of the forest, it's tough to not look at trees. Use your physical location and agenda to change the perspective on a regular basis.

  • Pingback: How To Launch a Startup: Ideas, Acceleration, Raising Capital and More

  • http://www.monsterguide.net/ art

    Customers is always right! try to get their point of view on what should be change. Sometimes it’s not all about our idea, try listening to them for a change.

  • http://www.monsterguide.net/ art

    Customers is always right! try to get their point of view on what should be change. Sometimes it's not all about our idea, try listening to them for a change.

  • http://www.bizunite.com David Unite

    Our company, BizUnite, is a web start-up, a quintessential online tool kit for independent businesses.

    We love independent businesses and their continued success is our vision. Whatever we do we ask ourselves: Great! So what? Is this making any real positive impact on the independent business?

    We ask that with EVERYTHING. If the answer is no, then we shelf it.

  • http://www.bizunite.com David Unite

    Our company, BizUnite, is a web start-up, a quintessential online tool kit for independent businesses.

    We love independent businesses and their continued success is our vision. Whatever we do we ask ourselves: Great! So what? Is this making any real positive impact on the independent business?

    We ask that with EVERYTHING. If the answer is no, then we shelf it.

  • http://maggie.coffeeshopmafia.com maggie

    Keep an open mind.
    great post. In a start up now – hard hard stuff.

  • http://maggie.coffeeshopmafia.com maggie

    Keep an open mind.
    great post. In a start up now – hard hard stuff.

  • http://www.journeyetc.com traveler

    there was this saying, superb system is better den superb personnel. with a good system runnin, u can hire a bunch of low quality personnel with a good business running. eg. fastfood restaurants with come n go part timer.

    Have Strategy is always important to stay ahead, listens to customer to avoid making the same mistake again. and of coz like all other things u stated above.

  • http://www.journeyetc.com traveler

    there was this saying, superb system is better den superb personnel. with a good system runnin, u can hire a bunch of low quality personnel with a good business running. eg. fastfood restaurants with come n go part timer.

    Have Strategy is always important to stay ahead, listens to customer to avoid making the same mistake again. and of coz like all other things u stated above.

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  • Pingback: The Challenge of Staying Focused in a Startup

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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