Friday, April 19, 2013

All-in

It’s a season for lines and arrows, numbers and graphs, spilling across whiteboards and flip-charts.  For four months, the chemists have been working to stabilize the silicone surface of our substrate.   Progress has been slow, first the problem had to be understood, then alternative methods tried, finally the results validated in 15-day stability tests.  We pushed hard on things that seemed to work, quickly abandoned.

And the clock ticked, and our resources burned lower.

This week was our planned review to take stock.  We have patented materials, good people, laboratory resources, a ready market, waiting investors.  It only remained to connect the dots, how should we deploy resources to give us the maximum chance of success?

At this stage, “Success” becomes a slippery concept.  “Entering the market with a superior product that benefits patients,” is the right answer. But how do we allocate bets among Product A, Plan B, and Option C?

In a tight situation, “Securing funding and staff”  or “Conserving investor cash” become topics as well.  It gets tempting to think only of how to keep a grant, how to close a funding round, how to Keep Going.

But that’s not the purpose of being in business.  Living businesses bring products and services to customers.  Zombie businesses, kept solvent with cash infusions, linger with no hope of becoming viable.

Knowing Right from Wrong means knowing When to Stop  as well as What Next.

Which drives everyone to the whiteboards.

A consensus emerged over the past week, ratified today.  This is what we know; this is what we don’t.  Here are the risks, the associated “right / left” alternatives depending on which way the work breaks.  Tag the decision dates: annotate the deployment of people, the associated costs.  Here’s the plan and budget.  And, in three months, we have the answer. 

Or we are finished looking.

It’s a weird feeling, after the vote is complete: we’re “all--in”.  There are no more plans to be made, the chips are all pushed to the center of the table and the cards are dealt. Now we just execute the very best we can; play the hand as well as possible.

My partners note that some of the greatest stories in business come from companies in exactly this situation.  I know that we can be one of them.

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