A $500 Million Lesson

From one of the best entrepreneurs I know

Welcome to The Process. Every week, I share lessons and insights on the process of improvement.

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Now, onto Issue 62.

A $500 Million Lesson

I’m the co-founder of a corporate communications company called Alto Studios

We help business leaders and their organizations build and manage their online presence.

One of our newer Members is one of the most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve come across. Let’s call him James.

James didn’t go to a fancy school. He doesn’t have an MBA. He doesn’t live in Silicon Valley. But he loves the process of building businesses. 

He’s built and exited several companies, selling his last one to a global brand for $500 million.

I asked James what are some of the core principles he lives by for building businesses.

“Violent Execution is one,” he said.

Violent execution.  

“Most people come up with reasons not to try,” James said. “Great entrepreneurs just go.”

Let’s unpack this idea a bit more, as it may be the “unlock” many of you need on your path of personal or professional growth.

First, what does James mean by “violent execution?”

He’s not implying “violence” literally.

What he means is, operate with speed. Have a sense of urgency. Take fast action.

In business, speed is a competitive advantage. In the context of learning and improvement, it’s an accelerant.

John Boyd, a former U.S. Air Force Colonel, revolutionized how fighter pilots think and operate with the OODA Loop. The core idea: the pilot with the fastest feedback and decision loops wins.

In tech, software companies build Minimum Viable Products. The core idea: make the first version of a product as fast as possible to start getting feedback from customers.

In business, there’s a theory known as the First Mover Advantage. The core idea: the company who enters a market first and moves fast has the advantage (note: there’s a downside to this theory, too).

The idea of operating with speed is everywhere.

So, how can you implement it?

Here are a few actionable ideas to start:

1. Take the first step now

Most people think and plan too much (speaking to myself!). The key to operating with speed is just to start. Take one small step right now – today.

  • If you want to write a book, take 15 minutes to sketch the first rough outline today

  • If you want to improve your health, go for a 20-minute walk today

  • If you want to build a business, talk to one potential customer today

Don’t overthink it.

2. Simplify the process

Speed and consistency are cousins.

Speed builds momentum. Consistency compounds that momentum (which produces more speed and momentum).

Trying to do too much prevents building consistency.

So make everything simpler. Organize projects by singular tasks. Break goals into daily actions. Distill complex processes into a series of steps.

The simpler things are, the faster you can move.

3. Make speed a habit

I like to think of speed as a muscle.

It has to be strengthened. The more you work it by taking faster action, the more it becomes a natural part of how you operate (note: this applies on a team and organizational level, too).

Dave Girouard, the former senior executive at Google, wrote one of the best articles I’ve read on how to make speed a habit and build it into your organization. I highly recommend you read it.


Here’s the main point from today’s issue:

→ Get started, don’t overthink and move fast.

This is the essence of “violent execution,” as coined by our friend James.

Think about how you can make faster decisions, take faster action and make faster progress.

And think about how you can help your team or organization do this, as well.

One important note: Moving fast doesn’t mean there needs to be chaos. You don’t need to feel stressed. Nobody on your team needs to get burnt out.

You can still be thoughtful, deliberate and measured while operating with speed. 

The key is focus and not wasting time on activities that feel like progress but aren’t actually moving you forward.

I’d love to hear from you

That’s it for this week.

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See you next Sunday.