Preparing for the Unexpected: Build a Foundation for Better Decisions

Every business faces the possibility of the unexpected — those events and challenges it’s never faced and that its people have never experienced. As a leader, such surprises may leave you wholly unprepared. You may not have any of the facts or skills you need to get through them and move forward. You may not have the time to dig into a lengthy decision-making process to find a solution. For a start-up, these surprises can be devastating — throwing you off course when there’s no margin for error.

But there’s one thing that will give you better footing for weathering these unforeseen events and obstacles — and that’s a solid foundation. A good foundation is built on understanding your product, exploring and solidifying your brand, and building a minimal viable product that hits its target spot-on. It will provide you with the flexibility you need to sidestep many potential issues ad overcome the challenges that inevitably arise. Creating that foundation should be on every start-up leader’s agenda.

Here’s how:

Understand your brand.
Your brand’s goals and vision are what guide you on your journey, so consider them carefully. What problems does your product solve? What is the message behind your company and product? What are the values that drive your brand, and what does your company aim to accomplish? How is your product enhancing people’s lives? The answers to these questions will give you solid ground to stand on when problems arise.

Watch your speed.
As a founder or executive, you often don’t have blind spots on failure until you crash right into it. Many companies get caught in the momentum of rapid growth. I’ve seen many founders tempted to stop listening to their most experienced staff — regardless of the value of the guidance, the prospect of slowing seems too dangerous. As a result, the business keeps running, but it’s actually less able to scale at the speed it could be capable of.

Build a trustworthy collective.
Sometimes we are unable to make quick decisions without an experienced group to guide us, assist us, and challenge us. The people you surround yourself with are integral to identifying disconnects and finding effective strategy solutions at critical moments. While you might not have all the answers, your company as a whole may have the resources and experience to solve even the toughest problems.

If you’re a tech founder without any experience building a company — since this is your first — this type of collective tactical powerhouse may seem a lofty goal. But all you need to do is to surround yourself with experienced people and listen to them. Your support team will act as a Sherpa to guide you on your climb as you begin the difficult process of raising more funds and will help you explore potential disconnects before they happen.

Recognize the disconnects.
Recognize the disconnects between where you are and where you want to be. Such an analysis can also help you pinpoint the areas where you might fail and let you prepare for and address potential disconnect possibilities.

You are constantly creating, sourcing, exploring, dreaming, and pitching. But this is just the point where those pesky disconnects rear their heads. Your chief nemesis is the Product/Market Fit Disconnect, where a product must prove itself to be marketable to be minimally valuable. And as you let go of your product and share it with the public, you will face the Minimum Viable Repeatability Disconnect, which must be conquered to set the stage for repeatable success. At this point, you face the insanely challenging shift from market to scale. But first, you must triumph over the Customer Voice Disconnect, Process Disconnect, and Measurement Disconnect.

Understanding why and when these disconnects happen is the secret sauce of successful start-ups. It gives companies the confidence to move forward and the ability to handle any curveballs thrown their way.

Your company is built from the ground up—not just your product, but your values, mission, vision, and team as well. If your business goals are well integrated into your operations and employee culture, if you have cultivated an environment of trustworthy people, and if you have anticipated any possible disconnects, then you have developed the resilience to navigate difficult situations and the ability to make effective, thoughtful strategic decisions.

Exploring and understanding your start-up’s potential disconnects gives you added strength and the capacity to scale faster and more fearlessly as you navigate critical crossroads.