Thinking About Thinking

How Can We Double Down?

Posted in Venture Capital by larrycheng on May 19, 2009

One thing I wished I had done from the beginning of my venture career is to simply dedicate a notebook to great pieces of wisdom I would hear around specific situations raised in the context of a board meeting or partners meeting.  At the end of the day, the venture business is about pattern recognition and such a notebook would help in building that database of patterns that one could fall back on.  Fortunately, I have a decent memory for these things, but if I had it all down on paper, that would be even better.  For those of you VCs who are earlier on in your career, I’d recommend you trying something along these lines.  I may use this blog to capture some of these insights going forward.

Today’s post is about one such piece of wisdom that I think is particularly relevant in these times.  This piece of wisdom came from Jeff Bezos, founder & CEO, Amazon.com during an MFG.com board meeting.  Jeff asked the question, “Is there anything big or small, that is working better than you expected?  Is there any where we could double down?”  Jeff’s point was that we spend a lot of time focusing on what’s not working in Board meetings (especially in times like these), and not enough time focusing on what is surpassing expectations and how we can “double down” on those areas.  Often times the key levers in businesses are found in little things that are really outperforming whether by intention or not (often not, actually).  Sometimes these are things that are either adjacent enough or small enough that they wouldn’t make a board presentation or be an obvious discussion point because they’re just seedlings that need to be watered.  I appreciate how Jeff wanted to bring these seedlings to the forefront to see if they deserved some real investment.

I now make a point to periodically check in with all of my companies, whether things are going great or not, to see if there are areas where things are working better than planned – areas where we can double down.  Some types of things I have heard in the last year:

  • A particular use case for a product is taking off despite the fact that we’re not marketing that use case.
  • A particular customer segment has a sales cycle that is much faster than the other segments we’re targeting.
  • We’re completely ignoring some aspect of the business that is “non-core” but it continues to do well despite that.
  • A customer is getting real value from our product in a way that we didn’t anticipate.
  • A specific region is adopting our product, and we have no sales and marketing there.
  • Customers are saying great things about us on the Internet.
  • A particular marketing channel or marketing message is converting better than we expected.
  • A particular sales rep has cracked the code and is destroying their quota.
  • We have a particular customer who is going out of their way to help us in our product development and positioning.
  • Employee morale is high and retention is great.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

To all of these cases and many more like them, it’s worth asking the question, “How can we double down?”  So often the market tells us things that are key to the success of our business if we just ask the right questions and listen closely enough.

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