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Moving Fast

The biggest lesson I learnt from working on a high growth startup this year is the importance of moving really quickly on things. And if there was one thing I've gotten better at tremendously this year, it is that.

Most people are moving slow. Even the people who say they are moving fast. Once you learn to operate fast, you look around at everyone else and see just how much they are losing out on by being slower than you: whether it's releasing a feature in 2 month rather than 1 week or having a high quality candidate in their recruiting pipeline drop out or running out of money.

I like deep thought. And I've always had a tendency to deeply analyze things. That's a good thing. But what is objectively true is that for most things in life, you can't analyze and reason your way to a good solution. You have to tinker, and experiment and make mistakes. Moving fast is the method that affords you that ability.

In the context of leading a 10-20 engineering org as I did this year, moving fast means unblocking other people. That means answering the Slack message as soon as you see them. When someone doesn't have access to an account they need to get their job, you give them access ASAP. Moving fast is also about making decisions quickly, and not having everyone else wait on you. Some decisions need some marination but most don't. A helpful framework here is the one-way/two-way door metaphor:

What are one-way and two-way door decisions? One-way door decisions are decisions that you can't easily reverse. These decisions need to be done carefully.  Two-way door decisions can be reversed.  You can walk through the door, see if you like it, and if not go back. These decisions can be made fast or even automated.

I used to punt on things quite a bit, even if it was only for a day. I'd say "Let me get back to you tomorrow". But in reality, I learned that I didn't need to for most things. I could make a decision right there and I was sorta just procrastinating. I was worried about making the wrong decision. But if you structure your personal mindset and also your organization’s around acceptance of mistakes, you free yourself from the stress. You feel less of the decision fatigue. And if you're making too many decisions as a leader, you're probably not empowering your direct reports anyway.

As the leader of an organization, when you make directionally strong, quick decisions, that really multiplies the speed of the organization. I've worked in large organzations (Yahoo, Palantir, ADP, etc.) where things take so long just because someone in management "needs to review" or "hasn't gotten back on that".

When it comes to product features, think of most decisions as two way doors. Even most seemingly one way doors can be reduced to two way doors. For example, you can reduce the cost of building a solution, you can treat it as an experiment where failure is an option and not all of your users or audience will be affected. I'd wager that in 90% of product decisions, whether in a large organization like Facebook or a small 5 person startup, it'd be quicker to prototype a really contentinous idea and beta test (on a small segment) than to analyze/debate and really figure out whether to go through that one-way door.

Hiring is another category where companies move too slow. Usually, no-hire decisions are really easy to arrive at and if possible, I would recommend ending the call in that situation. The polite thing to do for the candidate if you're definitely not going to hire them is to give them their time back. This was hard and awkward for me to do initially but you can do it in a very polite manner. In a way that people appreciate it. At the startup I worked at, every interviewer had to be 👍🏾 for a candidate to get hired. If you have multiple interviews lined up back-to-back and the first one goes badly, let the candidate know immediately and don’t do the second or third one.

Zooming out, a good recruiting process should get a candidate hired in less than a week. First meeting on Tuesday. Offer by Friday evening. At a startup, it could look something like:

Day 1 - 30 min intro chat + screen

Day 2 - Onsite pt. 1

Day 3 - Onsite pt. 2

Day 4 - Meet with CEO and make offer immediately after (do reference checks in parallel)

How do you get through such a process quickly? You write up the process clearly with a set of questions and rubrics for the interviewers. Write up the instructions for the candidates. Write up and templatize the emails you’re going to send the candidate before every round. Use calendly or some other scheduling solution. Use a doc or Lever or another CRM to track candidates + interviewer feedback through the process. With all this set up, interviewers really shouldn’t spend more than 10 minutes post interview and maybe 10 minutes pre interview learning basic facts about the candidate. If everyone’s a 👍🏾 at the end of it, make an offer during the call with the CEO.

To sum up, within the context of a startup, moving fast is a massive competitive advantage. Everyone else is moving too slow. And if you can just move fast, you get a massive leg up. You move fast by reducing the stakes on every decision (turn things into two way doors) and constantly making decisions as quickly as possible. Don’t do it tomorrow if you can do it today. Done is better than perfect.