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Perfectionism has no place in a start-up | Boffinism

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Perfectionism has no place in a start-up

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I had an interesting experience recently. I was working on a project where we were attempting to get a chance to pitch at a demo day. There were several rounds of selection, one of which required submission of a video presentation, between 3 and 10 minutes in length.

Here’s what my instinctive approach was:

  1. Spend a few hours workshopping the core narrative, and work that into a script.
  2. Storyboard the script, working out where to have talking heads, where to cut to key slides, and where to have screen-capture footage of the project’s software.
  3. Consider shooting a quick rough draft so we can get a feel for the flow of the piece.
  4. Get a graphic designer involved to get key stills in place. Get someone with DoP experience to head up the shoot.
  5. Beg, borrow or steal a decent DSLR, or even better, a big RED camera, stabilisers, a boom mic, and decent lighting.
  6. Spend an afternoon shooting, using cue cards to make sure no words are flubbed, getting at least 2 good takes of each shot so we have flexibility in the edit.
  7. Consider writing some custom music for the film.
  8. Spend a day or so editing everything together in Final Cut.
  9. Do at least one round of feedback collection from everyone who mattered, and incorporate into an updated cut.
  10. Colour grade, export, upload and submit.

If we’d done that, I’m confident we could have created a pitch video that was the best it could possibly be, at the cost of a few person-weeks of work and whatever we ended up paying for equipment.

Here’s what we actually did:

  1. Borrow a meeting room in a shared working space
  2. Spend 20 minutes discussing how to translate our pitch deck into a video pitch
  3. Set our presenter up in one corner of the room next to a TV hooked up to a laptop showing a PDF of the latest pitch deck
  4. Record the presenter on a hand-held phone, winging it based on their experience of pitching to VCs, doing a single take for each slide in the pitch deck.
  5. Spend a couple of hours stitching together the footage in iMovie and adding in a screen-capture of the software
  6. Giving the first draft a quick once-over to make sure there were no glaring errors, then submitting it.

Against my instincts, we put together the video with probably less than 5 hours of work total, and what we had at the end was rough-around-the-edges and a bit amateurish.

I was a little bit horrified.

But a couple of days later we received the notification that we were through to the next round.

And that made me realise that my instinctive approach was completely wrong.

You see, what we had done, was put together the MVP of pitch videos. Our leader thought about what the judges needed to see to get them to put us through, and then proceeded to put together the minimum viable submission to get us through. Ultimately, we just needed a way of telling a compelling story about our project, and all we needed in order to do that was for someone to talk, to camera, about the project. Everything else was extraneous.

It was really hard to get my head around. My sense of professional pride meant that I wanted to make the best video it was possible to make. It felt to me that this opportunity was too important to give anything less than 110% to. But when I thought about it, I realised that what was motivating me was pride and insecurity. And those are not good qualities when it comes to making decisions.

By making an imperfect pitch video we lost out on precisely nothing: The goal was to get through to the next round, and we achieved that. But what we gained was a couple of person-weeks of time to dedicate to other opportunities. When you’re working in a start-up, time is one of your most precious commodities. You’re always battling against the ticking down clock (normally the one that reaches zero at the point where you run out of money.)

What I learnt is that perfectionism is inefficient. You don’t need to be perfect. You need to move fast, and you need to be effective. Don’t slog away until it’s perfect. Get it good enough, then move on.

Like this post? Check out my book, Working With Coders: A Guide to Software Development for the Perplexed Non-Techie, out now in Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon (UK) (US).

Published inEntrepreneurship

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