Working from home

If you asked me what I thought about working from home three weeks ago, I would have told you that I expected to be super productive, work through my massive backlog and catch up on a lot of reading and other important non-urgent matters.

Today, I can tell you this is definitely not the case. It’s 6pm, I’m only halfway through my inbox and I have another 4 tasks on my todo list before I can call it a day. It’s super busy, and this is how all days are.

In most ways this is positive, as it is mostly caused by the fact that it’s business as usual just from a different location. Things have not slowed down, companies need funding, introductions and sparring, and projects go along (maybe even better than before because of forced adoption to better tools).

At the same time, I find that working from home can be more exhausting in many ways. Just about every work related matter happens in front of a screen. I’m trying to go for a walk during some calls, but this is more of an exception. Writing, thinking and most meetings are in front of a screen. Additionally, there are no natural breaks because you have to travel to in between meetings, find time for lunch before the canteen closes (the fridge is always open) or be at any event. It’s more non-stop than ever - a continuous stream of things to do. I’m currently thinking about ways to manage this better.

I realize I’m not the only one realizing this (see twitter), and there are plenty of strategies out there. To begin with, I’ll start by introducing firmer routines for lunch and exercise, block time in between meetings to decompress, and have a scheduled end-of-day time. Let’s see how it goes.

Reasons for optimism

This situation sucks. Lockdown, people dying, losing their jobs. All that stuff. Still, when given the choice between optimism and pessimism, I always choose the former. So today I wanted to put forward 7 reasons for optimism in these special times.

  1. Climate wins. Plenty of stories on how the lockdown means fewer people will die from air pollution.
  2. We can change. Related to the former - if somebody ever tries to claim that “we can’t shut down x to save the planet”, these days we’re getting evidence disproving such statements. We can - the questions is merely if there is willingness.
  3. If you can work from home, this situation is a perfect opportunity to streamline your organization. You suddenly have a lot of time to migrate the entire organization from email-mostly workflows to the many excellent productivity tools you never really had the time to test properly before.
  4. Working from home, it’s suddenly much more evident who is and isn’t productive. Hopefully this does not go unnoticed, and organization can get rid of dead meat and run more efficently once this is over. As the saying goes; when the tide goes out, you can see who has been swimming naked.
  5. Black swans won’t be dismissed anytime soon. People who are fond of margins of safety, cash savings, some extra food stored and so on, won’t be ridiculed the way they were a few months ago. Just-in-time everything is right most of the time but really really wrong when it’s wrong.
  6. The Nordic model wins. Pure capitalism is struggling these days and screaming for a bailout. Having a strong government has never been a bad idea and this situation amplifies that point.
  7. More time for friends. Everyone is in the same situation - suddenly with a lot of extra time on their hands. While we can’t hang out like before, I find myself talking to friends and family much more than before. That is definitely a good thing.

Open for business

Uncertain times all around these days, for good reasons. I’m well settled in my new office which is in my bedroom at home, and all of my colleagues are working from similar setups.

Even though our office looks like a ghost town these days, we have not stopped working. Rather the opposite. Our mission, to support entrepreneurs with ambitions to build important tech companies out of Norway, is if anything more relevant than ever. The best thing those of us without a directly contributing job can do in this situation is to keep the wheels moving to the best extent possible - fight uncertainty with certainty.

While we for natural reasons can’t provide an awesome workspace these days, we continue to actively look for entrepreneurs to partner with and invest in. I have no doubt that some of the most important companies of this coming decade will be founded in this period, something this tweet from a few days ago put perfectly.

If you or someone you know see an opportunity to build an important company in this situation and need funding to get going, please reach out to me on kjetil at startuplab dot no. I’d love to talk.

Corona

No topic feels of similar importance as the Covid-19 virus this week. I could have written about it, but I choose the Jurgen Klopp-approach and instead let the professionals tell us what to do.

Thus, this week’s post will be really brief. Rather, I’d spend my time planning for some weeks of uncertainty and working from home - which for me means establishing a few new routines - which might very well be next week’s blog post. For now, stay calm and healthy, wash your hands and follow the guidelines given by those in charge.

Meta (or, why I write)

I’ve gotten a few questions lately around why and how I write stuff here, so I wanted to spend a few lines explaining it.

There are two main reasons why: First and foremost, writing is a skill I want to improve. I’m believe in learning in public, so putting my words out there makes it easier to get feedback and get better. Having good writing skills is an important part of my job - it helps me think, ask better questions and in general communicate effectively with the people I work with.

Further, if I repeat myself in a meeting more than 4 times, I benefit from writing down whatever it is I repeat. I can’t remember where I read this first, but it’s a really good rule - for two reasons. First, I force myself to articulate what I’m saying in a very crip and concise way, meaning I have a better chance of getting my point across next time I’m talking about it. And second, many times I can just share a link instead of spending time repeating something. Win-win.

Previously, the answer to “how I write” was “whenever I feel the urge”. I since realized that the urge appears too infrequently in a busy schedule, so I have since changed what the answer is. These days I write at least once every week (excluding holidays) - usually on Wednesday. No big deal if I’m a day late though, like this one. I don’t really care about the lenght of the post or what the topic is - 1.01^x is a big number if x is a big number so the main KPI is just production for now. Some posts are better, and when I have something I belive is worthwhile reading for more people I try to distribute them more broadly (most are just tweeted out once immediately after posting).

Lastly; all posts are written in English. This is a principled thing for me; a lot of the founders I want to connect with now and in the future will live in Norway but will not understand Norwegian. It is important to not exclude immigrants from the conversation, and the best way to ensure that is to use a language that is more broadly understood.

/fin

I don't know

I love when people say “I don’t know” confidently.

Unfortunately, this happens all too infrequent. Usually when someone asks a question, they don’t know what the right answer is (which is why they’re asking, duh). What this means is that regardless of whether you answer correct or not, your answer will usually be accepted by the other person.

We tend to reward people who give us answers, regardless of whether or not the answers are any good. Say you don’t know, feel stupid and you get a follow-up question. Or give your best guess with enough confidence and move on (most of the time, because the other person can’t tell you’re “bluffing”).

What I’m trying to say, I understand why people try give answers even when they really “don’t know”. What I wish is that more people understood that saying “I don’t know” is better for all parties.

If you have an answer to every question, people will gradually start to discount everything you say because they don’t know what’s inside and what’s outside your circle of competence. If on average you’re right half of the time, your answers will be valued at 0.5 - both your good and bad answers. Choosing to say I don’t know when that is actually the case, means your other answers has a higher value.

There are few ways to add more trust than to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Say you don’t know, and say it confidently. And people will trust everything else you say more.

(IPO) pops and drops

The most recent edition of my newsletter went out this Sunday, and I got a comment on this section:

Consumer finance company Hudya Group listed on Nasdaq First North. The share price has fallen since then, and while the story talks about this as a clear negative it could be argued otherwise too (the opposite would be leaving money on the table). Too early to say what’s correct in this specific case though. Link

The comment was that I was surprisingly mild towards the company, Hudya, as they appeared to have had a very unsuccessful listing. There are a few aspects here that I wanted to comment on.

First, I want to clarify that my comment was not directed at the company. I have never met Hudya, and have no opinion whatsoever on the quality nor the real value of the company. Generally, I try not to pass judgment on any of the startups mentioned in my newsletter - that’s the job of journalists. My job as an investor is to support companies, and I’m not contributing positively by publicly pointing out flaws from afar.

Instead, I was addressing a general issue: the prevalent view that an “IPO-pop”, that the share price appreciates immediately after listing, is the only desired outcome for a company going public.

An IPO-pop basically means that a company left money on the table. It issued shares at a price lower than what the market was willing to pay, at the expense of current shareholders who take on extra dilution. Slack and Spotify both avoided this dynamic when they recently went public, as they did what is called a direct listing - and I’m not the only one believing this will evolve into the new standard going forward.

It was this perception, that an IPO-pop is not necessarily the best outcome, I was trying to address with my newsletter comment.

Another interesting question is what an unsuccessful listing is? Because the answer depends on how long you hold the stock acquired. If you invested in Facebook when they listed, you would have earned almost 6x your investment today. But if you sold after 115 days, you would’ve lost about half of your investment. Amazon would’ve given you a return of 1250x if you held on to the share until today, but only 3.5 if you held onto the shares for 4.5 years. You get my point: unless you have sold your shares it’s hard to conclude on the quality of any investment.

That said, every company considering to go public should feel a degree of responsibility towards investors, employees as well as other founders. It is said that good companies open (IPO) windows, while bad companies close them. If the share price of your company drops and continues to struggle after you list, it can have broad implications.

All else equal, poor share performance makes investors less likely to invest in the next company wanting to go public. It can also affect the psychology of your own company. Employees who’ve been told they’re part of an exciting journey can suddenly monitor the market’s take on this journey, and when things are going south and their stock options go out of the money, the mood tend to shift negatively.

Better make sure your company is quite robust before exposing your company to the scrutiny of public markets.

Problems

Work is about problems and solving them. That’s how it should be.

Previously, I’ve been working to “solve all the problems”, clearing out all todos and reaching some kind of end-state where all is done. Obviously, this is an impossibility, something something I’ve realized gradually.

What I’ve found is that instead of trying to get rid of all problems, it’s better to strive for more sophisticated problems. Since it’s neither realistic nor wanted to reach a state where all problems are gone, a better sign of progress is if the problems I’m solving are gradually becoming more sophisticated, or more advanced if you will.

Cyclist Greg Lemond phrased this eloquently, saying that: “It never gets easier, you just go faster”. My alternate version is that you always work towards more sophisticated problems.

Everything is a test

I retweeted the above earlier this week. Mostly because it’s funny, but there is some truth in it as well.

When trying to decide on whether or not to back a founder, I and others doing the same have to make a decision with very limited data. We meet a few times, can do reference checks (which is not always a good thing either), and can look into what they’ve done before. Even if you do this very thoroughly, you’re left with very little data to base a decision upon. Which leads me the title of this post: everything is a test.

  • If you show up at a lot of irrelevant events, investors might think you lack focus
  • If your deck is poorly designed, investors might think your product gets the same TLC
  • If you spend most of a meeting talking about a minor detail and that means you don’t have time to get through your presentation, investors might think you’re easily distracted
  • If you show “vanity metrics” instead of real stuff in your presentation, investors might think your real numbers suck

None of these “assumptions” might be true. You could be at the event to meet a friend, your deck could look like shit because you have your designer focused on your actual product, that minor detail might be very relevant for understanding your opportunity, and you could’ve gotten a flawed advice to always show your best numbers not your must telling numbers. Meaning; failing one such “test” should not be enough to lose investor interest, but if you repeatedly show “negative signals” through a process it might be enough to make a borderline decision tilt the wrong direction. Everything is a test.

Frequently used quotes

I find myself quoting other people’s wisdom all the time. For obvious reasons: why try to rephrase something which has already been expressed very eloquently. Similar to my “frequently shared links” post, I wanted to put together a collection of the quotes I use the most. I’ll update this as I find more good ones - here are five to start with:

“Either hold a rock concert, or a ballet; but don’t hold a rock concert and advertise it as a ballet”
Warren Buffet

“To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail”
Also known as the law of the instrument. Mark Twain, Buddha and probably many more.

“You can do anything you want but not everything you want”
Ray Dalio

“Addition by subtraction”
Andy Weissman

“Things are completed in the time allocated to complete them”
aka Parkinson’s Law, by Cyril Parkinson