The Creative Loop Edition
On scaling, time, and feedback
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Noah here. One striking realization any startup founder goes through as they grow a business is that the more successful you get, the less time you spend doing the things that initially drove you to start your company. In those early days, you spend your time building. But then, at least if you’re successful, you move your focus to build a team that can build things. While it’s nice to leave those late-night coding sessions behind, it’s hard not to feel a bit disconnected.
I eventually came to think of this as “creative loops.” When you’re writing code and building products, those loops are short: you can get feedback almost instantaneously, either from your code editor or a test user. But as the company scales, those loops get longer and longer. Eventually, when my first SaaS startup, Percolate, was around 150 people, I came to realize that my job was to hire the person who hires the person who manages the person that builds the thing. That’s not to say I wasn’t hands-on—I would venture to say founders are amongst the most hands-on CEOs out there—but the reality of running a large company is that you extend the size of that creative loop. What was once something you measured in minutes or hours becomes something you measure in days or months.
Why is this interesting?
I was listening to the Lex Fridman interview with Mark Zuckerberg and was excited to hear him describe something similar. While Meta (née Facebook) is obviously far more successful than any company I’ve started, the feeling of founding and operating a company is pretty universal. Here’s what Zuckerberg said in response to a question about why he likes doing jiu-jitsu:
I think almost all the people who start successful companies are working extremely hard. But I think one of the things that you learn, both by doing this over time or very acutely with things like jiu-jitsu or surfing, is you can’t push through everything. You learn this very acutely doing sports compared to running a company because running a company, the cycle times are so long. You start a project, and then it’s months later—or if you’re building hardware, it could be years later before you’re actually getting feedback and able to make the next set of decisions for the next version of the thing that you’re doing. Whereas one of the things that I think is mentally so nice about these very high turnaround conditioning sports and things like that is that you get feedback very quickly. If I don’t counter something correctly, I get punched in the face.
One of the reasons I was so eager to start WITI four years ago, was that it was a chance to return to short-loop creativity. After years of running a company, it was amazing just to write something, see it land the next day, and catalyze conversation. I feel similarly every time I write code these days. I think every person who is driven by creative urges has a relationship with these loops, and figuring out how to optimize my life around shortening them has been important for my own well-being. (NRB)
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