No matter how great your startup is, if you move too slowly you are going to lose.
I’ve asked 5 super founders if they agree with this statement. All said yes. And then each gave a different definition of speed. What’s going on?
If startup speed is essential for success, we better understand how to measure it, why it’s important, and how to achieve it.
How NOT to measure startup speed
Let’s start with examples of how not to measure speed
Shipping features as fast as possible
Finishing projects as fast as possible
Growing as fast as possible
Raising money as fast as possible
Exiting as fast as possible
These are all bad definitions because they focus on specific outputs and depend on context. For example, growing as fast as possible is great only if your churn is low and your growth engine is proven. It also doesn’t help every person on your team to move faster.
How to measure startup speed
The correct definition is surprisingly simple: Startup speed is the time to results. The quicker you get to the outcome you’re looking for, the faster you are.
Why is this a good definition? First, it forces you to know what your goals are. Second, it puts everyone’s focus on these goals instead of raw outputs. Lastly, it empowers every person on your team to use their brain and skills to maximize their contribution, instead of going through the motions.
The only other definition that I would consider is speed of learning. I don’t like this one as much for two reasons. One, results are the only true measure of learning (interviews, research, and other tools at best give you valuable hints) and two, it doesn’t bias you into action as speed to results does.
Why speed to results is important
Speed to results is important because it maximizes 3 things that you probably want.
Learning. The reality of a startup is highly uncertain. What your users need is unclear and the world changes quickly around you. By optimizing for fast results you force yourself to figure out what works and what doesn’t and to adapt as quickly as you can.
Motivation. Speed is addictive, getting frequent wins feels good. It makes you and your team feel like you’re making progress every day, get that dopamine hit frequently, and keep going. When no progress is achieved for months people start to question if things are working. A drop in motivation and engagement quickly follows.
Business results. A startup is a race. It’s a race against your competitors, your runway, and your personal goals. Quick results keep you ahead of the race.
How to achieve exceptional startup speed?
The way to achieve startup speed is by acknowledging what it is and why it’s important, leading by example, and saying the word speed a lot (and fast.)
But I admit that I have not fully cracked this one and never felt satisfied when it comes to speed. Perhaps truly obsessing about speed means that you will only be satisfied when you reach the speed of light.
If you care about winning, speed is an edge you must exploit. You should measure speed as the time to results, anything else will make you and your focus on the wrong things. Incredible speed motivates everyone around you and keeps the competition behind. And as important things annoyingly behave, startup speed is elusive and requires constant maintenance and attention.
Check out NFX 9 Habits of World Class Startups. I like how they think and promote startup speed.
How do you achieve speed at your startup?