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Structured and Unstructured Games

[TL;DR: Startup are hard; why; motivation in the early days.]

Maybe the world has two types of professions: structured and unstructured games.

In structured games, there’s always a clear path on how to advance. There’s always a next step. And most importantly – there’s always a clear motivator. “I’m going to do X to impress Y, who might give me a raise”. Examples of this job are a middle manager at a large company, entry level sales, or the military. Working in these games is relatively straightforward, like a Nintendo product.

In unstructured games, there’s not always a clear next step. Effort does not always equal progress. You don’t have any clarity as to what to do next. You can get stuck, and you can get distracted easily. Motivational instincts guide to failure. Examples are starting a company, working at an early stage company, investing, designing a product, writing, etc.

Unstructured games are doubly challenging those founders who are insecure overachievers, their own harshest critic. This is The Great Filter of startups in my opinion, and Github is the largest startup graveyard on the planet: so many people get started, make a few commits, show it to friends, nobody cares, quit. This isn’t a Nintendo game; it’s Cyberpunk 2077.

This is also why I think the best startups are a labor of love – there’s no market validation, no customer research, just someone happily coding away because… the idea seems cool. This cuts both ways; sometimes those founders fail to adapt in response to user feedback, forever building obscure tools useful only to them. But sometimes those things become UNIX.

So how do you fix this problem for yourself? This is kind of the secret mission behind Pioneer, but I’ll put that aside for now. Here’s an unpopular idea (I think):

Common startup advice is to try and grow ARR as quickly as you can. Broadly speaking this is correct but it might be wrong given the principle above. Getting usage and feedback without the hurdle of revenue is often easier and more important – because it keeps the furnace full of motivational fuel.

I find it helpful to try and get positive reinforcement as quickly as possible. Launch something, get people using it, and talk to them. It’s joyful to serve customers if you’re making something they genuinely want, and once you have early feedback from them, you’ll be more able to hone in on the shape of a product you can charge for.