Strategic Planning as a Pre-Product, Pre-Funding Startup

Or: Pick a north star and start moving that direction

Recently I was chatting with a colleague I’ll call Mandy, who I really admire. She was making the jump from managing a 100+ person organization at a very successful technology company to a pre-product, pre-funding startup as the initial engineer and technical co-founder.

As we were enjoying some coffee over Zoom, she asked about what kind of strategic planning her team should be doing on the 5-7 year timeline. She wanted to make sure that she was setting her organization up for success long term.

This question made complete sense in her previous job. It was part of what made her so good at managing her large organization. But I pointed out it didn't make any sense in her current context.

Here’s why: When you're pre-funding, especially when you're pre-product, the only thing to plan is the general direction of the company. How are you going to make the first sale, and then how are you going to build a predictable revenue machine? Anything more than that is a distraction. Until you have a product generating revenue what do you actually know?  What can you reliably predict? Nothing.

Your only goal is to find a viable business model as quickly as possible.

I’ll be the first to admit there are a ton of things I currently do that would sink me in a 200 or 2000 person engineering org, and I let Mandy know as much.

Context matters.