Does It Move A Scooter?

The hardest problem in a startup is figuring out what not to do.

Unless you’re very lucky, you’re resource-constrained - there simply isn’t enough money, time or people to do everything that could be done. At the same time, every stakeholder has their own opinion about what’s most important.

There’s the ever-present risk of doing the wrong thing, or worse, getting stuck in an analysis trap and not doing anything.

What you need is a quick rule-of-thumb that you can use to gauge whether something’s worth doing or not.

I learned this the hard way working on the project from hell - building an e-scooter sharing service which kicked off in a February and absolutely had to be up and running by that summer.

Every aspect of the service was built from scratch, from the hardware platform, to the mobile app, to the payment system.

Unsurprisingly, it was chaos - that scope would have been a challenge for a team twice the size with a timeline twice as long.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what needed to be built and what could be left for later, and the process of deciding which was which took almost as long as the building did. It also caused massive amounts of friction and argument.

After a particularly fractious debate, probably about something disproportionately minor, we hit the point where everyone looked at each other and said the same thing - “there has to be a better way of deciding these things”

I can’t remember who it was who came up with the idea, but it was simple and to the point:

If there was disagreement about whether something should be done, we ask a question to short-cut the debate.

“Does it move a scooter?”

That was a simple phrase, but it turned out to be a small act of genius. Within a day or two, it was written in huge multicolor letters across a whiteboard, and it was our standard way of prioritizing.

The approach works on multiple levels:

It’s focused. The goal of the project was to get people riding scooters, and scooters that can’t move can’t be ridden.

It’s simple. It doesn’t need a lengthy analysis process; there’s no scoring matrices or cost-benefit analysis. Ultimately it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. True, it does strip nuance from complex situations, but it also encourages getting to the point.

It’s quick. There’s a finite amount of time you can spend arguing as a team about a simple question. If the answer isn’t quick, it’s a hint that the issue isn’t clear enough or the understanding isn’t shared.

It’s communicable. We ended up with it as a kind of team slogan, and it was so simple that it could be explained to business stakeholders 🤪

It’s uniting. In adverse situations like crunch projects, you need things that the team can unite around - and small-scale rituals like resolving arguments by pointing to the whiteboard and chanting “does it move a scooter” in unison can have a disproportionately-large effect on maintaining morale.

That exact phrase is only going to work for you if you’re in the scooter business, but there will be an equivalent in your domain.

There’s a temptation to make strategy bigger and more complex than it needs to be, because strategy is supposed to be complicated. But early stage startups are all about survival, so making things simple speeds things up.