Pull the future forward

Adult Mayflies live for 2 days. They spend a year as larvae, burst onto the scene with the sole purpose of mating and then, 2 days later, dead.

In an infinite time horizon, Mayflies and startups are basically the same. Startups spend the majority of their lives building, incubating like the Mayfly larvae. After they launch there is a limited amount of life left in them to succeed and most won’t.

I picture those Mayflies cramming their entire life into 48 hours. They know their task at hand, throw caution to the wind, do not worry about 1 minute beyond the 2880 they are given — they pull their entire future forward.

This is where startups need to learn from nature.

The very limited timeframe a startup has to establish itself means that they need to focus on the efforts that will make a difference right now. Not one minute past the end of their bank balance.

This doesn’t mean planning is excused. There could be a 3-year plan in place but things that move the needle need to be front loaded in that plan. For example:

  • Build the lowest lift features into the product/service that captures the broadest appeal among customers.
  • Leverage third-party tools to speed up development (do NOT rebuild things that are already built by others).
  • Focus efforts on a single customer pain point to be the best at solving that for now.
  • Market a single message — don’t get complicated.
  • 80% complete is 100% good.

There is a visualization that I like to share with my team that cements the process for me. I ask everyone to picture all of us sitting on a patio the day that some significant milestone has happened to the company — a successful raise or an acquisition or a bankruptcy. The LAST thing we should be talking about is regret that we didn’t try something or change something or do something differently.

We should feel that we’ve left everything we had on the field, that we did everything we could to succeed, that we pulled enough of the future forward to feel good about where we were — even if the company didn’t survive. The last thing you want to hear is “we should have” or “why didn’t we” or “I wish we did this”.

We should have no regrets.

Startups have a short life before they are expected to transition so why do anything at all that doesn’t make that happen? If the purpose is survival, pull that future forward and get to the destination. Don’t be a Mayfly.