How Old (In Human Years) Is Your Business?

Your business has an age. Treat it accordingly. 

A baby needs 24/7 care, can’t do anything for themselves and is wholly unpredictable. It’s the idea on paper where you’re asking “maybe this will work” but any number at this stage is largely irrelevant. 

Toddlers require even more resources. Nothing of material value is coming out of them, but you’re going to be plowing a lot of positive reinforcement in (celebrating the first steps, reminding them “it’s not OK to hit mommy in the face with the dog toy”). It’s the idea that is finding traction but needs a lot of support. 

Teenagers show signs of promise but take every opportunity to screw everything up. They almost resemble functional members of society (the life version of product-market fit) but they are inclined to chase shiny objects. It can be demanding and sometimes expensive to keep them on track. 

Young- to middle-aged folks know who they are and (at least approximately) where they’re going. They’re evolving a balance of reinvestment in their immediate future with investing in a future-future (i.e. retirement, sale of business, succession, etc.). These maturing businesses are real work to own or operate, but they work and just need time, focus, and repetitions. 

Seniors have something that worked but maybe is passed their prime. They don’t hopscotch around like they used to. They might want to chase a young new thing, get a facelift, or rebrand to be “hip,” but that’s usually not a good investment. All businesses hit a point of maturity where it’s time to wind down or leave. 

Once you know how metaphorically old your business or idea is, you can start treating it accordingly. It’s a mistake to treat your toddler like a 40-year-old, and it’s a mistake to think a senior is still 22. 

Age is such a simple metaphor, but it really brings out the stages of the life cycle. 

h/t this is inspired by Aswath Damadoran’s work – check out his talk from the last Pivot conference here.