Playing It Backward

I spend a fair amount of time working with startup companies. By definition, these businesses have a lot of planning and building to do. What problem are we solving? How will we make a product or service that accomplishes that solution? What will that cost and what’s the financial plan? How do we gain enough traction to scale? It often seems overwhelming, even to someone with my years of experience. When I can see that there is a fair amount of frustration on my clients’ faces, I’ll usually ask if they know how great golfers think about how to attack a hole.

Stay with me here – this isn’t yet another excuse to talk about golf here on the screed. Great golfers will play a hole backward. They start by thinking about where the pin is on the green (front, middle, back, left, center, or right) using the pin sheet every caddie and player carries. That sheet gives them the location – how many feet on from the front, how many feet from one edge. That allows them to figure out the best angle for the approach shot, which then dictates where they want to land the tee shot. Backward.

I think great business people often play their businesses backward. Some might call it starting with the end in mind but I think it’s more than that. For example, I think it’s a better and more accurate method if you begin with what number of customers get you to sustained profitability and go backward to find out how you’ll scale to that number (I generally use 10x growth per year) than to begin with where you think you might be now and guess at growth rates. The former gives you targets that will get you where you want to go and an ability to formulate marketing and other budgets to support that growth. The latter is reacting to where you might find yourself without a clear path or guidance for budgeting.

I try to play most decisions backward. Where is the pin (my goal)? Where is the best place from which to attack it and how do I get to that place? Execution then becomes simpler – I’m only focused on the next shot – the next task – because I know I have a plan. Do you?

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