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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

How much time should we spend on "BAU?"

That's a hard one: “What about 'BAU?'”

With any successful startup, 90% of their growth ends up coming from 10% of the stuff they try. So we push companies to prioritize till it's uncomfortabe.

Companies write a short list of “must win battles” that’ll ultimately dictate their success or failure. And that’s when it gets ropey.

Suddenly, everyone’s inundated with new work, but these crucial “must win” projects tend to creep along painfully. Teams get stressed, and founders usually ask me how they can carve out time to focus on growth initiatives plus the “BAU.”

Now, BAU stands for “business as usual,” so I ask: “What exactly is this ‘BAU’ and why is it more important than growing your startup?” And they reply with really important projects like fixing technical debt, ongoing social media marketing, sending newsletters, the product roadmap, QA testing, fixing typos, setting up internal tools and processes, compliance, getting feedback from lawyers…you get the point.

I’d hate to tell them to stop any of these pressing matters. It’s not my company, and those sound really important! So instead, I tell them this:

  • In the early days, PayPal wasn’t licensed to transmit money in any of the 50 US States

  • Their early fraud losses exceeded $2,000 per hour

  • And the entire “tech stack” was a single monolithic CGI script that eventually collapsed and brought down PayPal and eBay for 8 days before Christmas 2004.

I tell them that great startups are messy places where people take huge risks and do work they’re not always proud of. They prioritise growth ruthlessly, and make painful choices in the process.

Look, I’m not saying you should break the law, avoid compliance, send emails with typos, or accumulate technical debt. But I am saying that every successful startup has taken huge risks to gain tactical advantage.

It’s a hard thing to tell perfectionists, but there is no such thing as “business as usual" in a startup.

I hope this helps just a little.

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