How to get better at getting better

Google turns up 20.7 million results for Kaizen. Depending on where you’re located, a few of these are likely to be for local strategy consultants and investment firms.

Wait. You haven’t heard of Kaizen? Are you asking what Kaizen is exactly?

It’s Japanese for “change for the better.” Seems simple, but it’s not quite. Revolving around the word is a world of interpretations, historical significance, and use in modern management discussions. I’m not going to paraphrase or explore the full meaning here – the Kaizen Institute’s explanations is a good start if you are looking for one.

Kaizen and me

Kaizen though isn’t only about management or production practices. Here is what it means to me as a practitioner –

Fundamentals

Basic principles have taken me a long way. Lifting everyone’s energy and working to add order to environments is now second nature. A big misnomer that I encounter is about how entrepreneurs thrive in chaos – or a variation, entrepreneurs know how to build great things amidst constant chaos. (More on misnomers and entrepreneurs in another article.)

Focus

In a world that overwhelms, I learned where to focus my Kaizen efforts since many topics and people don’t warrant that kind of attention right now. I learned to differentiate between important and urgent. Let’s help folks who help themselves. “You can’t wake up someone who pretends to sleep” carries a lot of meaning, and unsurprisingly, exists in many languages.

Details

I work to leave every room better than when I entered it. And that starts with making my bed first thing in the morning. Even Admiral McRaven talked of changing the world by making our beds in his address at the University of Texas.

Improvement

James Clear Atomic Habits - taken from Shane Parrish's FS Blog

I read a paper book before bed. It’s my signal to my body to wind down while learning every day. From another perspective, I want to wake up 1% wiser than I slept – an idea that is best explained in James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Shane Parrish has a condensed 3 minute explanation in his blog post, Why Small Habits Make a Big Difference.

Leverage

I leverage my time by doing things that drive multiple benefits. Reading before bed leverages the brain’s continuous data transfer and deep learning process during sleep, as outlined in the book Why We Sleep. Mentoring is another area of leverage. Even as I share ideas/experiences/knowledge to improve others’ lives, I learn new points of view that invariably provide me more information and fuel for self improvement.

That’s Kaizen for me: continuous improvement. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Any of that resonate with you?

How to develop a financial plan in 13 hours

…and impress your investors

For most startup founders, few things make eyes glaze over faster than financial modelling and business plan generation. What’s not to love about numbers and wild projections?!

If you are in startup or fundraising mode, chances are that these are high up on your list of things-that-must-be-done. Despite limited time and energy (hello, 100-hour work weeks), we prioritize these because they’re linked to funding and getting VCs attention. Of course, if you’ve started and/or scaled a SaaS company before, none of this may apply to you.

Waitbutwhy, time, free financial plan template
How much time and money are you going to spend developing a financial plan for your SaaS startup?

At Go Moment, I spent 100+ hours with my team and outside vendors working to create a bespoke financial model. It wasn’t pleasant. I still have my battle scars from these times.

What we were trying to do and why it was painful

We set out to create a model from scratch. I tried to do it myself initially, and failed. I was modeling too many things far too granularly for the model to be useful. Numeracy and fluency with Excel were not my friends in this activity.

For the next go, I roped in quantitatively gifted team members, then expanded that to outside consultants, fractional CFOs, advisors… you name it. We went through three or four iterations – and ended up with a result that was, at best, a 5/10. If you want to hear about the details of financial resources that all this took up, you will have to contact me.

I failed not because I didn’t have quantitative expertise – or people with it. It’s hard to know the dimensions to model, the metrics that matter most to the business, and more importantly, to the investors.

There is another way.

Look for the wheel

It was invented a long time ago.

Meet Christoph Janz – a partner at Point Nine Capital. He blogs at The Angel VC (incidentally the tagline for Point Nine Capital too) and is more frequently on Twitter as @chrija. Point Nine Cap, by the way, has a prolific history of backing SaaS startups like Zendesk, Typeform, Algolia (etc).

In 2016, Janz shared a financial plan template that is available for free download. And he topped that with detailed documentation, notes and comments to explain the variables and understand the model better.

It took me about 12 hours to get really comfortable with the linkages and variables, and the output is ~8.5/10. ROI-wise, that’s a 10x return! More time to build… you know, the actual business! 😉

Christoph – thank you. This is my first time writing to say what a difference you made by sharing that template so freely. Having heard you on podcasts like SaaStr, your wisdom and startup experience shine through brilliantly. I’ve shared this model with 20+ founders personally.

If you are a VC, take a look at Janz’ template. I found it later than I would have liked; but it may save you (and your many investees) valuable time, money, and agony. Let me know if it helped you. More to the point, let Janz know what a valuable contribution he has made to the startup community.