When Stalled, Consider Chaos
And a recap of short summer posts on strategy
Good morning from Madison. Nearly halfway through a beautiful September here so far, though all our boys have now gone back to school/college and I miss the days with them.
I’ve finally finished The Long Ships, a hefty Viking epic, full of adventure and fellowship, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. “You are worth all your luck, and that is a very good deal.”
Speaking of which, I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined LifeArc Ventures as a member of their Early Ventures Investment Committee. LifeArc Ventures is the investment arm of LifeArc, a UK-based, self-funded medical research charity with more than 25 years of translating early science into health care treatments. Their collaborative model has created a strong portfolio of innovative companies across a range of therapeutic and digital health fields. I’m looking forward to working with Clare Terlouw, Deborah Harland and the rest of the committee to help great teams build better healthcare experiences through technology.
I’ve also been writing some short pieces about strategy recently, which I’ve not been sending out via Substack but have collected below. If we’re not already connected, please take a moment to find me on Twitter or LinkedIn, where I’ve been posting them.
Finally, before we jump in, check out Tony Williams 🔥 drumming with Chick Corea and Stan Getz at Montreux from 1972 (thanks to Ulysses Owens Jr. for the clip)
Here’s the rundown of recent short posts I’ve written from reflections on startup strategy and digital health:
On to my latest, which is about adding chaos to a situation where you’ve otherwise lost the advantage. I’ve observed this on a number of occasions when founders have needed to rebuild energy in a financing or commercial partnership / acquisition.
When Stalled, Consider Chaos
I spoke with two founders recently whose financings have stalled. Their weeks are filled with an exhausting drizzle of lukewarm interest in their rounds.
In these situations, it sometimes seems the company’s story is working against it. Often these are teams starting to deliver on their promise and strategic narrative, so you’d expect emerging conviction about the business.
But instead, as the company develops it inadvertently reduces beneficial uncertainty about its possibilities. By growing and stabilizing their business, founders make its future easier to characterize, and increase the specificity about what it is not.
Paradoxically, steady positive progress can bind with investor expectations and gum up their aspirations. You get drag instead of alacrity. And the more you reduce error in your trajectory the easier investors can plot the slope of your business and set the whole thing to the side.
One move I’ve seen work in these circumstances is for founders to add chaos to the system. That means introducing information and behavior that violates the storyline and conventions of the company narrative.
What do these countermeasures look like? Generally, fluid and fast-moving tactics that disrupt the thinking of potential investors. It can be as complex as a partnership deal that stakes out new positioning, or as simple as a provocative executive hire or clever new pricing. Sometimes, you’re better off with guerrilla wizardry.
Either way, time kills all deals. If things have stalled, consider what options you have to deploy uncertainty through assertive and unexpected maneuvers. These force people outside to discount their prior assessments and reevaluate your company, its position, and potential trajectory, and can help you recover your momentum and recapture the advantage.