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From our CEO: What I’d do differently if I had to start Culture Amp again

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Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp

We started Culture Amp in 2009. Back then we were a tiny Melbourne start up, and now we have four offices internationally and work with about a thousand companies across the globe. So if I could go back in time and take a different fork in the road, I wouldn’t, because I’m very happy with where we are.

But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done things better. If I could go back and talk to my 2009 self, I would give a single piece of advice: “Kill things off faster.”

That advice manifests in a number of ways (I’m going to discuss three in this blog), but all of them boil down to the same principle: kill off the things that don’t get you to your end goal so you can make the decisions that will.

1. Be open to possibilities but be willing to walk away

In the early stages, you’re trying to grow but you’re not exactly sure on your business model or end customers. You have all these opportunities, and you feel as if you should try everything to see what will work (just in case you miss out on the right idea). This is FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, in action.

But if you spend too long exploring everything that could work, you run the risk of missing out on the thing that works the best.

Today I try and remember that it’s fine to say “This is a really great idea, but right now I can only do three great things, and unfortunately this isn’t one of them.”

Everyone has their limits, and it’s alright to walk away from possibilities and double down on the things that you’re confident are the best of the bunch. It’s easy to fall into the trap of chasing things that look attractive, but making them successful is a lot of work.

A really good example is strategic partnerships. When you’re building a startup, you find that people are often looking for partnerships that will transform their business. Everybody talks about strategic sockets, multipliers, geometric scalars - It can feel as if the right channel relationship can transform your business overnight.

But the truth of the matter is that it very rarely does. There are certainly situations where people have built an entire fortune from a few very clever strategic tie-ups, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

2. Remember the long game

The startup world is fast paced and there is a lot of pressure. It can be easy to focus on the numbers and forget everything else. You start to think that your job is to get $100 million in revenue as quickly as possible. But racing for revenue can actually stop you from building a sustainable long-term business.

Early on, the amount of time it takes your startup to get from zero to one doesn’t predict anything about your future success. How quickly you scale up after that first million does have some correlation, but in the early stages it’s more important that you do it the right way. Build the right infrastructure to let you scale later, rather than trying to optimize for speed from day one.

Concentrating on systems means ignoring a lot of noise. When you’re in that startup space, and surrounded by other people in the industry, everyone has an opinion on how fast you should grow. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself against the latest unicorn. But your story is yours, and that’s something I would tell my younger self. Keep an eye on your end game, and ignore the advice that tells you to hit certain revenue targets within a given time frame.

3. Keep it simple

When we started Culture Amp, our first attempt at solving the problem saw us build a more complicated solution than we needed. If we had started out more simply, we could have learned more and iterated faster. You can’t get to the end before you start. Rather than trying to shortcut the learning process, embrace it.

Ultimately, if you’re clear about your goals and ruthless about killing off distractions, the right decisions will become clear.

At Culture Amp we found that while the decisions we made were hard along the way, they also made themselves. If we worked on things long enough, the next step became obvious. All we needed to do was to recognize that "there’s really only one choice here, we just have to live up to it and do the things that are required to make that decision come true.”

Once you’ve said yes to that decision, it becomes easier to say no to the things that are getting in the way.

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