I Like Dumb Plans

I’ve seen a lot of startup growth, and I like dumb plans.

I like plans that can fit on a single Powerpoint slide. I like plans that don’t require you to know frameworks, or methodologies, or advanced math to determine whether they make sense. I like plans that don’t require internal training for teams to execute. My toddler and I share the same aesthetics when it comes to our plans: A picture or two, not too many words, and those few words aren’t very long.

Executing complex plans requires being smart, and after I’ve had 11 meetings in 1 day I am not smart. Executing dumb plans mostly involves putting one foot in front of the other, and placing those footsteps exactly where they need to be – anyone can do that even when they’re exhausted. I like plans that feel like cutting down a redwood tree with a butter knife. You know it can be done, it just takes being more focused and determined than the other guy. I’m much more confident in my own determination than my cleverness.

I like plans that don’t require a whole lot of research. When 10 smart customers tell me the same thing, I don’t like spending a whole lot of time trying to figure out why they’re wrong (pro tip, they’re almost never wrong). I like plans where we copy stuff. If I’m trying to make money, I’d much rather sell cheeseburgers and pizza than experimental artisanal flavor combinations that we cooked up in a lab.

I don’t like having to know linear algebra to understand the complex analysis behind a plan; honestly, I don’t even really want to know anything past multiplication and even division is pushing it. I don’t like composite scores that look at how all sorts of metrics interplay to determine our next steps; I’m fine with doing data analysis, but I much prefer plans where it’s really obvious if the plan is working (if revenue is up 5x, we’re probably on the right track). I like caveman analysis, e.g:

  • Price go up
  • Gross margin up a lot
  • Number customers down a little
  • Profit is bigger

I like plans where the value is obvious. Build another product that our existing customers would like to buy. Save $100,000. Make it way easier to get started using our product. I don’t like plans where the goals are abstract – take a strategic position in the market, explore new buyers, showcase our AI strategy. I like it when a dumbass who knows nothing about our space can look at our plans and decide if they want to invest, because one day some dumbass will actually have to make that decision. I like plans whose business goals would be intuitively obvious to a 3rd grader operating an unregulated lemonade stand. I like plans where it’s easy to know when we’re done.

I like plans that don’t require getting lucky. I like doing stuff that customers promise they’ll pay for, or are already paying for – I don’t like re-establishing product-market fit. I like plans that don’t require future technology breakthroughs, because I’ve seen that even geniuses have dry spells. I like plans that don’t require customers, partners, suppliers, regulators, or competitors to do anything dramatically differently – I assume that it is hard to change other people’s minds, because I know it’s hard for them to change mine.

I like plans that sound dumb to our team because they feel obvious, but sound dumb to outsiders because they require a worldview that only our team deeply understands.

I like dumb plans because they’re easy to talk about. The smartest person and the dumbest person that I work with are going to need to work on our company’s plan, together. If we want to succeed, this plan needs to be a piece of music that all of us can play as a team. And if we’re going to play something together, I’d rather do drunk Taylor Swift karaoke than conduct a Tchaikovsky symphony.

I like dumb plans.