Zero - Key To Starting Up

Zero politics among strangers, for an entire weekend. It's not possible, right?

Those gathering for the second edition of Lean Startup Machine Jo'burg were most diverse group of people in South Africa Africa for that weekend. All with the purpose to learn the Lean Startup methodology.

This was a training course, a workshop, on how to test potential business ideas, correctly identify the market and pre-sell to potential customers. What could be more explosive than working on business ideas which are possible wealth generators with the most diverse groups imaginable?

Experiment Board

Ask any South African public commentator what the result would be, working closely around impossible deadlines with the goal of launching a business in a weekend?

Invariably you would get answers resembling something like a low grade civil war.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Yet that’s exactly what did happen.

Nothing went wrong.

No animosity, no prejudice, if anything a shared bond from lack of sleep and far too much coffee that’s safe for humans to consume, created co-hesive well knit teams, that developed an initial idea into a real business possibility.

So why was this the case?

Was this an insulated bubble, impervious to South Africa’s social and political discourse? Or are the people who come here just “different?”

I found the answer at the end of the weekend when discussing the absence of politics with a prospective investor, who said,

“Politics! There’s no time. You're starting at a deficit.”

What he means, is that when you start a business there’s no time for petty differences. You have to focus on the best idea, the most efficient approach, the best allocation of resources, in order to get to zero.

Lean Joburg Team Mechanico

Zero means you don’t owe money to anyone. Starting a business inevitably means you lent money from family or friends, a bank or investor. Getting to zero means you have a minimum viable product that is paying for itself and you no longer have to go into debt. Now, you can start making a profit and grow the business.

Few very important lessons that the Lean Startup Machine process teaches

  1. Zero time. Ask any participant and we’ll all say, “there just wasn’t enough time” or “given enough time we would have....”. This is a good thing. It forces you and your team to focus on the objective. It also surprises everyone what they can get done with so little time. Too much time means things take forever to get done and then don't get done.

  2. Zero budget. There was no budget. No one provided any money to test ideas, which means each group raised the money amongst themselves. This is important, if you or your partners don’t contribute then you're not committed to the idea or the success. You must have skin in the game, be willing to lose something before you take it seriously.

  3. Laser focus. Every group had a common and clear focus that started with a single idea. That idea pivoted and changed but it provided for a common purpose. Consistency of purpose is the key to good team work and zero politics.

  4. Action. This is the most important principle of all. Action moves the dial closer to the goal. Without it, action, nothing gets done which is when everyone blames the failure as someone else’s fault. The blame game is politics.

In many ways zero can be the symbol for all startups, you have zero cash, zero time and zero space for normal politics and all the stuff that gets in the way of the one thing you do have, an idea becoming reality.

This is an important realisation which everyone should take away from the Lean Startup approach, and that is,

with too much time, we pick out petty differences, blame people and don’t get anything done.

Zero means:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money
  • Focused vision
  • Action steps

This is the only way to achieve anything.

In this zero politics environment, everyone without exception spoke of how amazing it was to achieve something over a weekend. Racial composition, gender preferences and all other petty differences didn’t count to anyone.

I now remain convinced that when people are complaining about not enough being done in their company or country its because they have too much time and money on their hands.