By Poornima Vijayashanker
A little over a month ago I began advising a new startup. The founders told me about a deal they were working on to acquire a pretty big customer. They were trying to “land a whale”.
The founders went all in because they were pretty excited about the prospects of the deal. If they closed the customer it would give them the credibility they needed to attract employees and additional customers, and increase their revenue, which would attract investors.
If they didn’t get the customer… well they just didn’t think about that!
Getting the customer was the goal and it would help them accomplish all their other goals. They were being “strategic”.
Productivity doesn’t equal progress.
For the first 3 weeks, I watched them prep for meetings, attend meetings, and review what came out of each meeting.
They felt like they were inching closer to closing the deal.
As their advisor I knew what was really going on, because I have had a number of experiences like theirs.
Just like a real whale, the customer was deliberately moving slowly… The customer’s indecision was their actual decision. But being first-time founders they didn’t see it.
At the 4 week mark, the founders’ energy and motivation started to wane.
I knew they had become too attached to a particular outcome, it was consuming them, and if they continued on this path they’d feel defeated.
Activities need to be attached to goals.
I sat the founders down.
I reminded them of their highest goal: to pitch to investors in 3 months and close a round of funding. To accomplish that goal they needed to pursue activities that would help them show progress.
We talked about what it meant to show progress: they needed to close customers and generate revenue.
But spending all their time chasing a whale that they couldn’t close soon would generate exactly: $0.
Don’t worry about waste.
Going all in, caused them to take up time that they could have been spending on attracting other customers, customers who they might have been able to close faster. No point in worrying about waste. It was time to move forward.
I also helped them realize that even if they landed the whale, investors would be concerned about how much of the business was controlled by one customer.
Investors would be more receptive to seeing that the company had acquired a lot of smaller customers, who they closed quickly over a period of time, than the one whale that took months to land.
But to run the new experiment, I’d need them to trust me, and stop focusing all their energy on one particular outcome.
The founders agreed that it was important to take a step back and stop directing their energy towards a particular outcome.
They could make more progress by going after some smaller customers. While it might mean they make less money initially, over time it would be a healthier strategy for their business.
Now I want to know what was the last whale you tried to land? Was it a customer, a job, a promotion, or something else? Did you become fixated on landing the whale or did you re-focus your energy and make progress?
Let me know in the comments below!