The Operators series is for people in operating roles in high-growth startup and scaleups. Written from experience. For founders and their leadership teams, plus those talented motivated people who are interested in the bigger picture.
The first post of Operators was Managing Chaos.
It was first intentionally because when you’re scaling a business managing chaos is just a fact of life. It is perhaps the defining experience and feeling of scaling. So you gotta manage it. That or basically die :shrug:
Fortunately, chaos has a friendlier twin: Momentum.
Remember when you were 17. OK, 16. (Ok, what 14? Wow… ) And you were walking towards the door of the nightclub. The club you really had to get into. You can hear the music. You can see a partial view into the club’s interior. You can smell adventure (lol). Eye contact with the bouncers. That burst of extra adrenaline. YA-ya-ya-YAAAA. Now pause right there: it was at this exact point I used to imagine I was walking through the door. No slowing. No subtle inertia. No pre-conceived rejection, unwittingly conveyed by subconscious cues of body language. A mental trick to our own adolescent brains – ‘I’m sailing through yes I am and that bouncer is gonna have to ask me to stop and and and I’m innnnnn’.
Momentum and a fake sense of confidence (or a fake ID) carried us through.
Just earlier in cold British sunshine this morning my younger boy – new to the game of rugby this year – catches the ball, runs at the opposition and just before contact, slows. In rugby you need to run through people. Or over them. Or if you’re clever, around them. (Imagine American Football, less the body armor and the constant stops in play.) He’s caught, contained. That fraction of a second of hesitation was everything. A quick cue from a coach and in the next play he runs at and through the opposition. Legs pumping. No imagined slowing down. No trace of hesitance to allow the opposition to tackle. Momentum.
Sales people understand momentum. They sense for the heat and velocity of a deal, of a customer in-store, intuiting for that ‘propensity to buy’. Of course, great sales people don’t just feel it – they create it. One to one, asking questions that deliver a cascade of yeses. Or in the more sophisticated and subtle world of selling to groups of buyers in the enterprise, they build a groundswell amongst the prospects’ stakeholders. Through their orchestrated sales campaign they build positivity, an unfair bias and alignment across the boundaries of client-side functions and politics. And how to pace to it – when to go with the customer’s flow, when to speed it up. Momentum.
Momentum is magic in business. I really believe that.
It is waves of progress upon waves of progress. It’s ‘oh, and another (good) thing’. It’s rolling goddamn thunder. It is launch followed by client win followed by awards followed by big new hire followed by another client win. It’s you saying to the inside world of staff, investors, one another – that latter one of self-belief in the leadership is perhaps most important in some ways – and of course to the outside world: ‘hold on to your motherfucking hats, WE’RE WINNING, WE’RE MAKING THIS HAPPEN, AND EVEN MORE IS COMING’.
I reckon momentum is a big piece of the game in building a successful growth company. And as a CMO or a CEO especially, it’s one of the biggest opportunities you have. Even better, it’s free of charge. I certainly see it as one of the biggest things I can do to support a company.
How to create momentum
- Look for it
- Make the links explicit
- Timing is everything
- If you don’t hype, who will?
Let’s get to it.
1. Look for it
Momentum has to be real. To convince you and your team, let alone analysts or potential clients or investors. I mean, you can put some sizzle on it but people sense bullshit and hate vaporware and if you don’t know it and feel it nobody will.
So to create a sense of company momentum, you need to first spot the waves. Externally they might be things like:
- New product announcements
- BIG customer wins
- Funding announcements
- New talent / leadership / board members
- Big events
- Awards and endorsements (but good ones, you guyz)
- Major publicity
- Real impressive results – sales growth, outcomes, revenues, data you’re willing to share and stand by and if necessary prove
Internally, you’ll know what big moments of success are. It will vary massively according to your circumstances.
So spot them. See them. Name them. Commit to them. And proceed to step 2.
2. Make the links explicit
This is important. Probably the most important and directly controllable lever you have in creating Momentum.
See not the one wave in isolation. Look back and figure out when your last ‘big announcement’ was. Look ahead and figure out when the next will be. If you can, the one after that too. Put the waves together into a sequence of positives in your head and then make these explicit to the people you’re communicating with.
What you’re aiming to do is help the company bounce a one-off success and ping pong it into another in the near-future to create the sense of a string of successes. Then you pull something else forward or new out of the bag, and now you have a 1-2-3 and yes! the flywheel of positive momentum is spinning.
Yours is the company on peoples’ lips, front of mind, the one with extra heat.
Develop the habit to always talk about momentum in series rather than one-off. Mention the multiple examples of mojo. One or two positive items is just unrelated good news. Three or four is undeniable momentum. So in your internal all-hands or in the press release, reference the previous big announcement – ‘coming off the back of our recent successful fundraise…’ / ‘following last week’s amazing news about BIG BRAND CLIENT signing up for 2 years…’. Help others see what you see. Let no positive milestone stand alone!
And if it helps and you’re happy to, preview what’s next ‘and with our [committed next big thing] just around the corner, even more good news is coming’. It feels good. And it’s real. And it’s momentum.
About that flywheel: it takes more effort to get started than it does to keep it whirring. Don’t let it slow. (Note to self: Will, remember this always, even though you know it, never forget it).
3. Timing is everything
Be smart about timing. If two good waves are about to crash at the same time, make sure that makes sense in your head – ‘could we pull them apart by just a few weeks?’.
Consider your most important trading periods – figure out how momentum can carry you into this with a surge of an unfair advantage over the competition. Get out the blocks before the rest of the pack. Do the unexpected!
Thoughtfully stage the waves. Whilst plenty of this is opportunistic, some of these you can gently steer or even orchestrated. Great strategy is about coherence. Wouldn’t it be cool if this good news could happen at the same time as the major industry event or landed just a week after we told the team about the good news on new hires.
And pay attention to the mood. Of your staff. Of your customers. Of the market. Let that be an input to this too. Not in some kind of bankrupt ‘we gotta get good news to them, desperately!’ way. Just as another input to your timing.
There’s no playbook for this stuff. It’s just putting a little bit of thought into it and trusting yourself because frankly anyone can do it. All I’m suggesting is that developing the habit of thinking about when you want the fair winds to blow will help you maximize the boost that they give you.
4. If you don’t hype, who will?
This one pisses me off.
There’s this idea that you should quietly earnestly build rather than hype the effort and care from your team, their hard fought victories, the sweet occasional relief of some things going well and great product being shipped. In this line of thinking, the logic goes that the world – perhaps internally, your leadership, your board, or externally an influential client group, or journalists and analysts covering your space – will take care of noticing your hard work and if you’re lucky, send the appropriate rewards, credit, publicity. In some circles, and you will sometimes strangely feel it amongst your own, there is this dismissive view of people promoting their hard work. Seriously, fuck that.
Don’t let others foibles and insecurities or your own internal critic get in the way of the whole team’s greater good.
Most of the time you’re more down on what you’re doing than your fans and happy customers are because you see what didn’t get shipped, what isn’t where you want it to be, yet. In the team environment, the people around you are occupied with their role, their work, chopping the wood and need a helpful reminder to step back and see their collective progress. They also will want that permission, that space and that validation from you as a leader or from someone that isn’t their doubtful second-guessing self.
Plus, if we’re honest here amongst friends, most of the time the broader market or public essentially don’t care. In the nicest possible way, they don’t have enough attention available to pay to you. If you’re not putting yourselves on the line and saying ‘THIS MATTERS. I ask of you your attention. I won’t waste it’ well, most people won’t bother.
So call out the positives, the big chunks of progress, and don’t hide them. Because if you don’t hype it, who will?
- Look for it
- Make the links explicit
- Timing is everything
- If you don’t hype, who will?
Momentum puts a multiplier on your growth. It creates inbound you can’t attribute – resumés, leads, invitations for coffees with investors, unexpected outreach from partners. It creates a glue in your team that you can’t buy – a feeling that they’re in a good place and on a winning team. It increases sales outcomes and accelerates them too, and decreases sales and marketing expenses. It quite fundamentally lifts the value of the business in boardrooms and on the street and the feeling of momentum makes working more fun.
And the best thing is it’s free.
I love momentum.
Post #2 in The Operators Series. Feedback welcome ~ WM