Union Square Ventures (USV) has a long and interesting (and successful) record of funding businesses. One thing they consistently talk about is being “thesis-driven investors” and how their thesis is ever-evolving. John Siracusa summed it up* as “clarity and discipline with an open mind.” This is a great first principle we can apply to our own work.
A thesis is the central idea we want all of our work to fit under. Technically, it represents a premise to be proved. In practice, it’s a belief or a “why” that guides our activity. It is posed as a statement, but it serves the purpose of generating questions. “How does this fit with what we are trying to accomplish?” “What’s the theme of our work we want our clients to recognize without being told it’s what we are doing?”
Clarity reminds us to keep our thesis simple and specific. It can’t be too broad, too squishy, or too subjective. Others should “get it” when we say it out loud. “Why is this is a fit specifically?” Clarity goes beyond what we are going to do and into how we are going to do it.
Discipline is about process. Once we have a clear thesis, we have to stick to it. We don’t need a series of one-offs or outliers, we need a series of supporting decisions. We state the thesis, have the clarity to execute, and the. Maintain the discipline to do it over and over again. Assuming our thesis is correct (or reasonable if we’re thinking more philosophically), discipline is the process of continued validation or replication. Scale, if it happens at all, always happens here.
Being “thesis-driven” also allows us to shift over time. USV is on their third thesis in less than 20 years. As the landscape changes, we have to change with it. Planning to change in advance, even if we don’t know how we’ll change yet, is critical to survival. It doesn’t guarantee success but it’s a promise to ourselves we’ll fight failure as opposed to letting it slowly (or quickly) drown us at some point.
Our goal is to have clarity and vision with an open mind. What are we doing that is valuable and why do our clients think it’s valuable? How do we execute on supporting that value? How do we execute consistently and with skill? How are preferences shifting and how are we shifting with them? Can we possibly shift in advance of those changes? What’s the risk and what’s the opportunity?
It’s work, but it’s essential work. We have to do it for ourselves. Have a thesis. Make it clear. Stay disciplined.