"Do not Die" was our only strategy for the first 8 years of our company
In 2017, on a company retreat, I shared the following slide with our team:
June 2, 2022
According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
Pretty much anything we decided before showing that slide was based on the company strategy "Do not Die," and I’ve got to say, we got pretty good at not dying. It's a founder skill that's rarely appreciated in company building. Mostly because all business books talk about having a clear vision, a spectacular product, and a sleek marketing plan. But it's rarely mentioned that figuring these things out can take a long, long time. So you need to make sure that you're default-alive while you're executing on these things. Additionally, there are macro-situations out of your control, which could hamper your growth in the early stages. Prezly was started in 2008 in the middle of the financial crisis, so we needed to set ourselves up for survival throughout those first years.
"Do not Die" meant we were very short-term focused and inward-looking. It almost didn't matter what happened in the market or our industry. What mattered was, “what can I do this week to increase our MRR?” We knew we were doing things that couldn’t scale and weren’t really what we had planned for the company, but we also knew we could solve these problems later if we were still around.
Since showing that slide in 2017, we've moved on from a pure survival strategy, which was necessary once it became clear we were default-alive and profitable. From that point, a pure survival strategy starts hurting you and your team since it leads to inconsistent decision-making because you’re only focused on the short-term.
I'm in awe of company founders who start their company with a clear vision. They know what steps to take and, on top of that, are often able to document their process so eloquently. It's a skill I do not seem to have. I find myself grinding towards a milestone, only to then figure out it probably was the wrong milestone, and I need to start over. But I know that I will start over, again and again, and eventually get there. Our survival strategy taught us that everything is possible and every problem is solvable as long are you live long enough to be able to reach it. Longevity is simply underappreciated.
So my advice to founders: there is no harm in not having a long term plan or inspirational vision yet. Chances are you won't get it right the first time anyway. Start with setting yourself up for survival first. Buy yourself time to figure things out; do stuff just for the short-term if it results in you still being around in the long term. Eventually, over time, you'll stumble into something that is worth pursuing in the long term. We did.