Balancing the short and long term

One of the hardest things for entrepreneurs can be knowing whether to pay more or less attention to the short or the long term. It’s easy to go wrong doing either. I’m thinking about this today following a discussion I had with a portfolio company yesterday and after reading this quote from Index Ventures partner Mike Volpi in his post about why Criteo succeeded (it was the team):

I always say startups shouldn’t think too long term, and just concentrate on the next milestone instead. A little like mountaineering, what you will see at 1,000 metres is very different to what you will see at 3,000 metres, 5,000 and so on. While you need to know the direction of travel, it’s only when you reach the next milestone that you will see how best to take the next step.

I think the key point in here is that so long as  you “know the direction of travel” you should “just concentrate on the next milestone”. The question then is on which to focus at any given moment. At the highest level I would say that if you can talk convincingly to both these points then you probably have the balance about right. Not many startups can though.

If you struggle convincing investors about the size of your market opportunity I would spend more time on “the direction of travel” (and the destination) whilst if you find that people buy into your vision but conversations fall over after that then take a look at the strength of your short term plans.

If you’re still struggling then just make sure you reach your next milestone. Much better to do that and be vague about the long term than to fail to reach that milestone…