A single question that can guide every decision at a startup

confused-man-mdI found managing a startup to require answering a series of impossible questions with minimal data – and working very hard to create lenses that help make sense of the uncertainty. I had lunch with an entrepreneur yesterday and we talked about how he evaluates new opportunities and strategic decisions he has to make as CEO with one question:

Does this help us own more complexity for our customer?

He believes you can predict the value a company will create by looking at the amount of complexity they are willing to own – the founder’s focus should be on capturing/managing more and more of the complexity in the process as the business grows. I have heard a lot of people say they look for simple solutions to customer problems — trying to take things away etc, and this is similar, but I think this lens is even better.

It is obvious that companies that solve big complex problems will be most valuable, but if you go a level deeper and think about managing your company using this lens, it gets more interesting.

Every process or task (in enterprise or consumer) has a certain level of complexity — and the most valuable companies are able to attack very complex problems, hide the complexity from the customer and let them accomplish the task in a simple, straight forward way.

What if every time you had to make a choice between owning complexity or doing anything else, you optimized for capturing more complexity and managing it/hiding it from your customers?

If you operate this way, ask this question at every step, I think you focus the whole company on meeting customer needs and maintain a critical consumer centric culture as you scale.