Why I back Momentum, not Ideas

When I work with individuals and organisations to help them change, I see a lot of Inertia. That is, of course, expected.

Inertia: the tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

When I ask them: “What is the opposite of Inertia?”, the most common response I get is: “Action”.

Not quite. It’s Momentum.

Taking action, or just doing something for the sake of generating activities, is a far cry from building – and sustaining – Momentum. You would have noticed this phenomenon quite frequently in the so-called transformation projects. Lots of activities for the sake of being busy, sometimes leading to dubious – too often unmeasured – business (and customer) outcomes.

Momentum, on the other hand, gets you closer to your goal every day. And for that to happen, the goal must be clearly defined, and whether you are inching closer to the goal every day needs to be determined through metrics and measures.

If you are a seasoned investor, you would know a different kind of Momentum.

The Momentum I am talking about here is broader than just the Momentum that reflects short-mid term movement trends. It is a collection of controllable factors that could get something quite dead – like an Idea – off the ground, and hopefully, turn it alive.

When you come up with this brilliant idea, and nothing follows – that is Inertia. Whilst stuck in Inertia-ville, your idea remains dead.

Having had this brilliant idea, and you start thinking about how your idea might come to life, that is a start – but not Momentum.

After thinking about how to bring this idea to life, you put together a plan, that is better – but still not Momentum.

After putting together a plan, you start taking actions, measuring how your actions are getting you closer to the goal, reflecting, and tweaking your plan on a regular basis – you have started building Momentum.

There are 3 rules that I use to sniff test Momentum behind an Idea – and subsequently determine whether I should back that Idea (and the Team) behind it.

Momentum sniff test #1: Can I see any concrete actions that this individual or organisation could take – TOMORROW – to bring the idea to life, using just the resources they have today?

Too many times, I hear start-up founders say that they have this brilliant idea, but they will need to raise a million first before they can progress. So the  next step is: “raising capital”. Perhaps they can think a little bit harder (hint: the right mix of founders is critical at the start). Today we have access to a lot more resources than we could imagine only a few decades ago. I accept that at some point a venture may need to raise capital to clear that next major business hurdle, but to be completely dependent on external capital injection just to make some modest incremental progress in your business would lead me to question your business model and structure.

Also too many times, I hear executives say that they have this brilliant game-changing vision and strategy, but they do not have the right culture in their teams to execute on the strategy. So the next step is: “changing the culture”. Errr… perhaps, with due respect, these folks might want to read Drucker again. Then have another good look at their strategy. Cultural transformation in organisations is always critical to sustain progress, but it is very brave to try building a future business based on a vision completely disconnected with the current culture.

When a business raises capital for a new venture because it chooses to segment its future portfolio in a certain way, that is a different story.

Momentum sniff test #2: Can this Team launch an MVP based on this Idea within 3 months, with the clock ticking from today?

A 3-month timeframe is aggressive. There are always complex ideas that require longer to get off the ground, especially those that involve building physical infrastructure and relationships. However, a lot of ideas floating around at the moment are pure digital plays or imitations – with very little R&D required, and I could see most of them launch-able within this aggressive timeframe, if all founders commit to it full time.

By MVP, I mean a working version that can solve at least one specific problem for a defined group of users, front to back – a version with good UX, few defects, and very light and focused working features.

I am still seeing way too  many MVPs that are buggy, suck on UX, and try to cover too much. It is worth the discipline to remind yourself that trying to be everything to everyone in all circumstances is most likely a bad idea to start with.

Answering Yes to this question would in most cases mean there is some real Momentum behind the Idea.

Momentum sniff test #3: What is the character of the Team behind this Idea?

A wise person once told me: “To know how people will turn out in life, we only need to understand their character. To understand their character, we only need to know their habits.”

My character observation and analysis tell me that entrepreneurs with integrity and a strong sense of social responsibility build and sustain Momentum way more effectively than others. This happens simply because they spend a lot less time fixing broken relationships, and have a lot more time rallying partners and customers behind a common – often inspiring – vision.

When I invest my time, resources and dollars in a business, I always choose to invest in the people behind it first, and the ideas second. Even the best people may fail a few times as they learn the ropes, but the right people will succeed eventually. Structuring this style of investment to achieve the right commercial outcomes is a challenge, but there are options.

An Idea, regardless of how nifty it may seem, is a dead thing. Momentum is a reliable indicator that this Idea has a chance of seeing the daylight.

Of course, this is my personal view only, and I will not claim that this is the only view that would work. But I thought it is worth sharing with associates and mentees, so that we can shorten our inter-calibration cycle.

Here is to your next Unicorn, not a one-time wonder that could reach $1B in evaluation, but one that could sustain its Momentum and one day realise its lofty vision.