Use the 12 days of Christmas to reframe your startup thinking

It’s a great time to be a founder if you sit at the intersection of a sizeable market, have built a high-performing team, and created a great product. This is your time. The leverage afforded to startups today is immeasurably greater than previous generations due to the internet and cloud platforms, API services and the open-source community. Digital deployment supersedes physical borders and boundaries of time.

Technology enables go-to-market scaling and reach, openness means fewer barriers between a startup and its customers and thus scaling your venture can be achieved faster, cheaper, and more easily. We’re living a staggering reinvention of economic value, out with incumbent business models in financial services, industrial, and consumer products, replaced by those centered around software, data, AI enabled services.

Don’t blink. Tech companies are fast adopting and inventing new bases of customer value. None of the new tech giants endured gruelling hundred-year-company-building efforts. The median age of the new guard is closer to twenty years, versus 75–100 years for the incumbents who ruled the decades before. The internet and AI create new opportunities for value creation.

Against the backdrop of the ubiquity of tech sector growth and its reach into our everyday lives, we have the stark contrast of the humanity and traditions of Christmas. It’s almost a throwback experience. For me, it’s about mince pies and mulled wine, time spent with family and friends, when people matter more than devices, and social connection means real face-to-face conversation replacing the screen for social media exchanges.

Indeed, throughout December, I’ve heard The Twelve Days of Christmas everywhere from radio commercials and shopping centres, but especially in carol services where it’s live music performance, not digital downloads. Everywhere you go, you can hear about Three French Hens, Seven Swans-a-Swimming and Eleven Pipers Piping. But what does any of this mean? What does a song about doves, hens and geese have to do with Christmas, and relevance to today’s tech driven economy?

The carol has its origins in C18th England, as a memory-and-forfeit game sung by children, whereby children had to remember all of the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, in the form of a kiss or a piece of candy to the others. Today, these verses are what we associate with the days from December 25 to the Epiphany on January 6, as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realised.

You can enjoy the traditions of Christmas as a tech startup founder by using the twelve days of Christmas in a relaxed but constructive way. Take advantage of the holiday to reflect in quiet moments to yourself, taking time out for some clear thinking for a thoughtful review of your journey over the previous twelve months without the interuptions of those unanswered email and slack messages lurking.

So here are my actions for the ‘Twelve Business Days of Christmas’

Day One: Reframe First and foremost, simply bemoaning your luck for not achieving what you set out to achieve back at the start of the year by complaining about your competition or lack of customers won’t help. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost, so ask yourself why? You need to reboot and look forward. What are you aiming for? What are you going to do differently this time that will create a different set of outcomes? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, get a grip, reframe, and reset.

Day Two: Restart Forget about how you’ve operated in the past, it was good enough then, but you need to press restart. The new order of tech shows how the balance shifts dramatically quickly. In order to become the best business you can be, start with a clean sheet of paper. What is my ideal customer persona? Why will customers buy from me and not others?  Don’t get stuck in a rut, press the restart button. Don’t be afraid, take a new bold, fresh approach. The same actions as last year will get you the same results – maybe.

Day Three: Rebalance The results of your entrepreneurial risk taking should be freedom and fulfilment, not continuous hard work, and a feeling of déjà vu. Dedicate time to rebalance your monthly, weekly, daily routines. If it’s all about the business of today, who is steering the business of tomorrow? Specify what you should be doing, working ‘on’ the business, and not simply ‘in’, and rebalance your priorities. What is your North Star for the next twelve months?

Day Four: Revisit How can you succeed against low-cost competitors? What is your differentiator? Pricing strategies offer no sustainable long-term growth plan, so revisit your strategy and business model to build a winning business. Identify what markets and products will work in the next 12 months and develop your value proposition and go-to-market plan accordingly.

Day Five: Revitalise Is the new year the time to revitalise your product offering in terms of features, benefits and customer experience?  Could you layer on new capabilities to improve customer engagement? Is it time to renew your performance dashboard of metrics, introducing predictive and prescriptive capabilities to take you forward?

Day Six: Refinance The best businesses are also the best financed. Now is the time to examine your financial strategy, and your cash requirements. Prepare a 12-month cashflow model to explore ‘What if?’ options on strategy, investment, and pricing. This will give you a clear focus. Money from customers is the applause, but without adequate working capital, you won’t be able to get in front of them.

Day Seven: Restructure Most businesses use the same organisation chart for years without changing it, but the old structure becomes outdated as customer demands change. Perhaps it’s time to restructure and look at job roles, skills, and responsibilities. Start with a blank piece of paper, what does the structure need to be to deliver the success desired? What are the key roles you don’t currently have? Where are the skills and people gaps for the next 12 months?

Day Eight: Refocus What do you offer or do differently to attract new, additional customers? Have you changed your target market or delivery systems to expand your customer base? Is it time to refocus your customer strategy and look for new customers in new markets? We often develop a myopic, inward facing view, spending too much time focused on product not customer, and ignore our marketing and messaging. What does your brand stand for?

Day Nine: Replace: Introduce new solutions for parts of the internal core that have been unchanged for many years. This may mean adopting new processes to better service customers that reflect how work should get done, not simply replicating how work used to get done on the old systems. Today it’s about the customer experience, engagement and providing convenience – do your systems make you easy to do business with, or are your customer facing systems clunky?

Day Ten: Revamp What business routines do you call over and over? Have you called any new plays lately? Your management style must be agile, what new ideas and innovations have you introduced to refresh the business and keep heads up. Think inside out, think like a customer.

Day Eleven: Replatform Upgrade platforms through updates to software, and migration to modern operating environments (virtualised environments, cloud platforms). Unfortunately, these efforts are rarely ‘lift and shift’ and require thinking, analysis, and tailored handling. Now is the time start with the thinking time available. 

Day Twelve: Relive Are you living your dream with your business? Why not? Never forget your dream. Write down what you want your business to do for you personally in the next three years. Decide what you must do to turn your vision into reality. Make it personal, so your business enables you to work to live, not live to work. Do you work for your business, or does your business work for you?

I’ve based My ‘Twelve Business Days of Christmas’ on reflective thinking, seeking to learn from experience on what has happened, and develop a questioning attitude and an open mind for new perspectives. We need to identify areas for change and improvement, respond effectively to challenges, and apply what we have learned to ensure results improve.

The reflective learning cycle is iterative, it doesnt stop after one rotation, you apply what you learn, then continue to reflect and develop further. Reflecting, evaluating and analysing your own experience of what you did and how you did it over the past twelve months develops your insight.

There is often no right answer, and some things may remain difficult to interpret. How did your actions affect the situation and how did the situation affect you? How do your observations today fit with the benefit of hindsight?

Use the holiday period to step back into an honest critique of your actions, behaviours, and attitudes to consider what might be the results of doing things differently. But don’t over think the past twelve months, you can’t change the past, but you can shape the future.

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