Finishing lines (4) – two numbers

Here’s Seth Godin with some of the best advice I’ve heard for drawing (finishing) lines. It’s especially relevant for businesses.

Q: I’m wondering about personal financing your company and where you draw the line if you’re funding it yourself?

Rule number one is you never put up your house. Don’t laugh. This means you can’t sign a personal guarantee on anything. “You want to rent this? Ok I’ll rent this, but I’m not signing a personal guarantee on anything.”

I have not signed a personal guarantee. I was bankrupt for eight years. I was this close from having to close down for eight years and I still never signed a personal guarantee for anything. That is a line I have chosen to never cross and I encourage everyone to do. The minute you do, suddenly there’s a 3-year-old at home who’s going to have to live on the street if you make a mistake. I just don’t know how to take risks when that’s at stake.

Then the advice that I give people is, if we’re going to be intentional about this, you need to write down a number and a period of time.

The number, it can be as big a number as you want, is the maximum amount of money under any circumstances no matter what that you’re willing to put in. And when you hit that number you can’t put in another penny.

People hate this. They say, “But what if something blah, blah, blah.” NO. There just has to be a number.

The second one is, “How much time before you give up?” And again, it can be 20 years. Fine. But you can’t say, “19 years and 11 months into it, but wait there’s one more deal that might come through.”

You just have those two numbers because if those two numbers are in place and your spouse is aligned with it, you never have to worry about it again. It’s off the table.

This whole situational thing, “I just need $2,000 more,” that’s lying to yourself. The discipline early on is so valuable because then you can spend 100% of your time focusing.

So you raise more money than you think you need and you treat it like it’s the last money you’re ever going to have. It’s way better than always wondering where that next nickel is going to come from.

Seth Godin – Start Up School Ep 11: Cash Flow
From a transcript by Kevin Evans

Finishing lines (3)

In the probably-quite-unlikely event that your project will last longer than you do – or at least lasts longer than your desire or ability to keep it alive – you’ll need to have a personal finishing line in mind.

  • When, ideally, will you let go of the project?
  • What state do you hope to leave it (what needs to happen so that you can leave without killing it?)
  • Under what circumstances will you leave before the ideal time?
  • What do you need to do and how do you need to frame your departure so that you and others feel good about you leaving?
  • Will it be a clean break, or are there ways you’d continue to support the project?
  • If things go wrong after you leave, what circumstances (if any) would drag you back?

Finishing lines (2)

Recognising the possibility – or rather, the inevitability – of the death of your project will focus your mind:

  • Given that we can’t do anything in the time available, what’s most important?
  • Will people miss us when we’re gone?
  • Will your project’s main legacy be something physical you’ll leave behind, or an idea or value, or a change in people?
  • Given that the cause that motivates your project will probably remain, what can you do to seed new projects and make it possible for new people to pick up the ball?
  • How can you avoid a painful decline and death-spiral – that is to say, how will you make sure the project dies well?

Finishing lines (1)

Or

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Artwork: Damien Hirst Image: Chaostrophy (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Where are the finishing lines for your project?

Some projects get finished up and wrapped up neatly, others (often work serving people, like education or government) are by nature never finished.

If your project has no clear finish line, it’s worth considering making an artificial one. It could be after a defined length of time or based on contribution: after you’ve achieved a certain goal, had a defined impact… or if something doesn’t happen by a certain timeframe.

Your cause will rumble on (many of our best causes will do so for as long as there are people), but it’s naive (and unhelpful) to think that your project will last forever, at least in its current form.