Always Start Your Car (And Your Startup) In First Gear

I had a thought this morning about the idea of a car’s gears as a way of thinking about getting companies off the ground, and how nicely that works.

Just like driving a car, you really need to start your company in first gear. The problem is that might not seem like a really exciting place to start, because first gear only goes up to ten miles per hour. What you want is to be flying down the freeway at 80 mph, but instead you’re barely moving and your RPMs are revving up-up-up around 3,000.

You may be tempted to skip first gear altogether.

But if you try to get your car going from second gear, third gear, or worse still fourth gear, all you get is sluggishness and unresponsiveness. The engine isn’t ready for that kind of action. You end up burning a whole lot more fuel and gaining speed much more slowly than if you had just started off in that lower gear to begin with.

And you might actually stall the car entirely.

You need to start your car in first gear.

It’s the same with companies. When you’re starting a company, you have to start out doing something that can get you up to the speed you need in order to start doing the bigger things successfully.

These are small things with very short-term payoffs that will enable bigger things to happen. This could be an incredibly simplified version of the product you intend to build, something that is just a single grain of your big vision but that you can launch and start getting into circulation right away. Or it could be small deals you do at cost just to build a client base and get your name out, so you can build on that.

Taking those steps lets you gain velocity, which is exactly what you need to make the bigger steps you want to make successfully. Without them, your car will be sluggish or will stall.

And then having a sense of the gears is of course very important. You need to know when to shift, and how to shift quickly without losing your place or your momentum. That takes prior experience – you’re not going to magically get it right the first time. You need a feel for the gears.

When you have that sense, and you start from the right gear, you should be able to get up onto the highway at cruising speed (assuming your car is a good, working car of course – but that’s a different blog post entirely).

I’ve been working on something with some people for a little while, and it occurs to me that we’ve been trying to start the car in second gear the whole time. I think we didn’t realize we were actually starting a car from 0 mph. But you’re always starting your car from zero.

I think it’s time to downshift into first to get up to speed.

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