The Presence Paradigm: How to Make Good Decisions In Startups

Jul 11, 2024

After running Jamie for the last few years and speaking to hundreds of investors, founders, and customers, I've come to realize an important paradigm in building companies: being present in decision-making.

When you start talking with people about your company (or idea), they often point out potential difficulties. Typically, these concerns are future-oriented scenarios, like "What if OpenAI will be able to do automated meeting notes?"

The problem is, these types of concerns are usually not useful. Why? They compare the current version of your company with a loose prediction of the future. Taking these concerns seriously assumes both that the prediction is true (which it isn't >90% of the time) and that your company will remain exactly as it is (which is also unlikely). If you start making decisions based on such concerns, you end up making fear-based choices rooted in uncertain future predictions. This is where mistakes in decision-making for the company begin.

The future is just a thought and incredibly hard to predict. You should never build a company based on the fear of a potential future scenario. If you maintain your ability to create, adjust course, and pivot quickly, you'll always be able to continue existing.

So how should one make decisions in an early-stage startup scenario? I believe the right decision is always rooted in the present moment. If you have conviction about a decision based on what you know today, stick with it. Everything you do must be grounded in the present. There are examples from more experienced individuals like Ben Horowitz in his book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things." He illustrates that you should never hire an executive because they might be a good fit in a year. Instead, hire the right people for the present moment. This is another manifestation of the same idea: rooting everything you do in the present moment and not in anticipation of an uncertain future.

I want to point out that this might not hold true for all companies. The environment I know best is the fast-paced technology landscape where velocity and speed in execution are table stakes for success. I do believe it's important to observe macro dynamics in your operating environment to align your company with the headwinds that will drive the future. However, to me, this isn't a specific prediction in itself, but rather an observation of present dynamics. So, I believe this is compatible with the presence theory.

The way I make decisions is to obsess over the present moment. I tend to dismiss specific predictions by individuals (knowing that nearly all predictions are statistically wrong) and focus on what we know to be true from our first-hand experience - from first principles. Then, rooted in the here and now, I try to figure out what the highest impact thing to do is today. Not in three months, but today. And I root everything the team does in this approach.

I don't know if this theory about decision-making is naive. But I know that thus far, it has served me well as a mental model to return to when in doubt, while giving me the liberty to not obsess over what others (investors, etc.) think and say.