Put The Money On The Screen

In all film, but especially low-budget or independent film, there’s a saying that goes, “Put the money on the screen.”

It implies that creators will sacrifice things like their own fees, the quality of the accommodations, number of crew members, all in order to optimize for what the viewer sees – what’s eventually on the screen, the end product, the movie. They will, therefore, prioritize the best cast members, lighting, props, location – anything they believe will make the end product better.

The ultimate success is whether people love the film. No one is going to know if there were 2 or 3 grips, what kind of bottled water was provided on set, or what the creators went through. All the viewers judge is the final product and how the film makes them feel, whether the actors were superlative, the editing flawless, and whether it stays with them and makes an impression.

Startups are very much like indie filmmaking. There are many constraints, you cannot build everything you want, and you certainly cannot have everything you want. When sacrifices have to be made, how do you prioritize?

Your “screen,” as a startup CEO, is user experience. Many of you may be thinking about how to get through this pandemic and the resulting recession. Let’s use the principle of “put the money on the screen”. Your goal is to get as many people as possible to use your product, love your product, and talk about your product. User love means the NPS will be through the roof, and they can’t live without it.

To achieve that outcome, you need to have exceptional talent that is motivated by your mission and who can do more with less. User-focused product, design, and engineering folks. You will have to give up on a fancy office, free drinks, and more painfully, the expensive, but unproven product feature you’ve longed for since inception. You and the team may even have to take pay cuts to get through this time.

A director knows that a fantastic feature will set her on a path where she can finally start to control her own destiny – choose which projects she works on, have a crew that fits the vision, and not have to worry about endless fundraising cycles. The same is true for startups. Success, here traction and revenue, will allow you to control your destiny – decide how you want to grow the company, have a team that fits the vision, and be able to raise money (or not) to fulfill the goal. And that is the best outcome for any startup CEO.