Perfection is the Enemy of the Good

Remember when you used to work at BigCompanyCo as an employee? Remember all the dumb stuff they did there and how you would do it differently when you get in charge? Honestly, that feeling was one of the major drivers for me to start my own company. I felt like I could do it better, cheaper and faster.

I was right, of course, (thankfully!), but I must admit I've learned a whole lot along the way. I'm a software developer/program manager by trade and I've spend the last 12 years building products and services for various companies. This means I've got a very strong technical focus and I'm able to craft and deliver very good technical strategies for lots of situations.

Like, do you need a quick and dirty reporting application to get insight in to your daily sale composition? Do you need an enterprise quality lease contract risk scoring application? Are you in need of an e-commerce infrastructure that can handle the surge of being on all 5 major television networks to raise money for cancer? I'm your guy.

Specialization at the expense of Generalization

All of this specialization comes at the expense of generalization. Here's what I mean. Suppose a college graduate was told to put together a scalable e-commerce infrastructure capable of handling the 80 million hits in 5 hours? What do you think the quality of work would be? What are the level of mistakes and oversimplifications you would expect from someone with virtually no experience? How long would you expect it to take for that person to get to the right answer?

I'd venture to bet it would take a lot longer and be of much less quality than I, mostly because I've spent the last 12 years learning from my mistakes and bad judgement just to be able to craft solutions with good judgement. I am in the expert category and I'm able to quickly discard unproductive solutions before I invest too much time and resources, precisely because I've make those investments in the past (or watched others) and learned from them.

C.E.O. is king? Ha Ha

Let's circle this back to the Entrepreneur. Many people believe the C.E.O. of a company is king. This might be the case in large organizations with processes and revenue streams, but in a start-up company being C.E.O. means you must perform all the work you can't assign to others. The smaller the company, the more work you must take on.

Technical Founders, take heed of that last statement. You must take on all of the roles in the company which you can not assign to others. This includes the roles you are presently ignoring. This includes roles opposite of your areas of specialty. You will do those roles and you will do them poorly. You will do them poorly because of your lack of expertise and also because of your lack of time.

Since you are not king, and you do not have legions of minions to do your bidding, you are it. You are THE GUY. You get to do 5 jobs instead of one.

Shifted Perceptions

My oh my, how this reality will shift your perceptions of what is 'good' and what is 'perfect' and what is 'desirable'. For a minute, you may feel dirty writing sloppy code to get a feature out of the door. You might feel lame for just copy/pasting from one proposal into another proposal just to fill out some words. You might feel like a crappy salesperson because you didn't follow up with a prospective customer who raised some objections and could possibly be won over with a nicely crafted rebuttal email.

However, if you are now responsible for 5 functions and you can only work 80 hours a week, this means each function gets 16 hours.


16 hours isn't even a normal part time worker. Those 16 hours you spend (while working 80 hour weeks) better count. You better be able to decide quickly which tasks are worth the level of effort and which you just need to let fall by the wayside. There just isn't time in the day to perform all functions perfectly. Half-assed is the new perfect.

The sooner you forgive yourself for your new standards, the sooner you can be more productive. You can spend less energy agonizing and self-doubting and spend more energy putting forth shabby work that will make you successful.

Besides, shabby quality, is about on par with the sort of stuff they put out at BigCompanyCo, isn't it?

-Agree/Disagree? Let's talk it out in the comments

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6/30/11 2:34 PM # Posted By Roger Austin

Good enough is okay. Half-assed is okay if it is good enough, especially if the budget doesn't allow for an elegant solution.

Someone gives you specs and you give them a solution to the specs (in the perfect world.) There are few perfect solutions in a moving target world.

7/1/11 6:06 AM # Posted By Steve 'Cutter' Blades

Dan -

Glad to see things are going well for you Bro! Yes, I agree with most everything you've said here. Very hard lessons to learn, and take to heart, as a developer. Most of us are wired for 'perfection', and only experience teaches us that it's Ok to 'get close'. It's our approach to 'getting close' that matters. If we build with progressive enhancement in mind (think GMail Beta), then we leave the door open for improvement and perfection as time/funding/inclination becomes available. I once had a developer who worked for me who had a lot of trouble understanding that concept. It wasn't that he lacked experience, but that a large part of his experience was in other areas (where perfection is even more of the course).

7/2/11 8:49 AM # Posted By Zach

Guy Kawasaki, in his book the Art of the Start, has a principle called Don't Worry Be Crappy. The basic premise was, develop enough to show the vision, potential, and that the core functionlity worked, pitch to some invenstors, make your millions, then get out.

Every business needs a goal - is it to create a great product or make money - most people don't realize those can be very opposing goals :)

I don't have proof, but I firmly believe there are many more millionaires from selling companies then building the revenue stream from nothing. Build enough to show the potential, then let someone with the connections do the rest.