Today, I want to share a personal story. In the past I led an “activation team” that taught me the importance of scouts:
During my time leading, we aimed to improve our conversion rate. Activation was the % of users that installed our mobile app and then funded their account.
We failed to move the needle over six months. But we learned a ton.
In hindsight, I had the wrong framing. Instead of “improve conversion,” it should have been “Why is conversion what it is? What are the problems with our current experience?”
We had too many soldiers and not enough scouts.
What do I mean by that? Keep reading.
Most startups, especially after Series A, make the fatal flaw of assuming they know what they’re doing. They think they need to deliver, not discover. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, their map of information has gaps. They should invest more in discovery and less in delivery.
Don’t believe me? Why else would 35% of startups fail after they reach Series A funding and before they can raise a Series B round? (source)
This arrogance is what happened to my activation team. We had money in the bank, so we assumed we could iterate outputs until we found the solution. It didn't work.
So what’s the best way to update our maps? We need scouts.
Julia Galef popularized the concept in her book of the same name.
I recommend checking it out.
In the book, she contrasts scouts and soldiers.
A soldier is good at focusing on a single outcome.
Soldiers enjoy rapid iteration methodologies like the OODA Loop.
A scout remains impartial toward the enemy. They must update the map with factual information.
Imagine if you gave the soldier the mission to find the enemy.
How would they feel after failing to find the enemy many times? Because of their soldier mindset, they’d likely feel discouraged.
After a few months of optimizing our onboarding process, my team felt exactly like that.
It’s your job as a leader to make sure your team adopts the right mindset is critical.
Next, we design experiments:
Spoiler: Rarely is building software the fastest way to build knowledge
I mean confidence in the face of evidence, not overconfidence.
Soldiers excel when the goals are clear and workable. Yet, many startups engage them far too early.
Based on my experience, it’s because Big Tech influences them. They read blog posts about how big teams do things and then adopt those practices.
Avoid the temptation to copy the big guys. Instead, focus on the fundamental principles and build your knowledge map.