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CEO/Founder Prioritization

As a founder or CEO, there are a hundred different things you could be doing at any given point in time. It’s easy to get off track with so many demands on your attention and seemingly endless things on fire. I teach a session in our Unusual Academy about how to ruthlessly prioritize as a founder or CEO to align your team and get things done. Below I detail the "GPP Heatmap" I used while I was CEO of Datastax to figure out what needed my team's attention and energy. 


The GPP Heatmap

The GPP heatmap covers the three areas every early-stage founder should focus on:


  • Go-To-Market (GTM) - Your GTM strategy tells you, your company, and your investors how you are going to use the resources at your disposal to grow the company.
  • Product - What will you consider “product” at your company? This can apply to documentation, training materials, UX, brand, support, partner integration, etc.
  • People - This represents not only those in your company, but also the wider group of people who are going to help you on your journey including your board, family, advisor, mentors, etc.  


Each pillar includes a category, score (excellent, tolerable, or broken) with primary constraints, and any must-do next step. The heatmap doesn’t have to be super detailed or perfect. The goal is to create a common resource for your team to work off of and discuss how to best prioritize as a team.

As you can see, I didn’t sugar coat the situation and there were a number of failures and learning opportunities to confront immediately. This heatmap became the most vital tool I used to get the company on track to where it is today.

Regularly discuss and update priorities with your team


Use the GPP Heatmap regularly as a tool when discussing priorities with your internal team and board of directors. Doing so will help clarify and narrow the conversations around topics that matter the most. Here are some points for you and your team to think through as you tackle GTM, Product, and People:


1. Go-To-Market


  • How easy is it for you to convince a smart person — who does not know your technology — just how big your market opportunity really is?
  • When people who know your space hear your story (or see your product), what strikes them as different from anything they have used before?  
  • How much friction (internal and external) is associated with a user engaging your product at a deep level? Think about not just using the product, but also finding/learning/buying as well. 
  • How easy is it for excited users to tell their story in a way that new users will immediately hear?  
  • What amount of future investment could you take today under the condition you had to unquestionably prove its efficacy within six months?

2. Product


  • Are you building a product for what users know they need or for users who do not yet even know what they need? 
  • What is the best new product example you can think of? Do you want to emulate it or are you going in a different direction? 
  • How valuable are product roadmaps for your team? If valuable at all, what makes a product roadmap really exceptional?
  • Steve Jobs famously said, “A product is either amazing or shit.”  Do you agree? And if so, how will you hold yourself to that standard? If you don’t agree, what is your standard? 
  • How important to you is “truth serum” in the feedback process? If important, how will you ensure you get it? 
  • For your product, what should the balance be between appealing to an engineer vs. an artist? 

3. People


  • As “operational” needs increase, who is going to own them?
  • What role do you want culture to play in your growing company? 
  • Do you have an interview process that everyone (including the candidates) understands? Where is that process documented?
  • Are you going to approve every hire or delegate as needed?
  • Are you prepared to move quickly on people who are not working out well? 
  • How experienced are you at hiring for functions outside of your particular domain expertise?

Download the heatmap template here. The pre-filled template reflects the real challenges and priorities I faced when I first joined DataStax in 2011. Create a copy and take a rough pass at filling out each the Go-To-Market, Product, and People categories for your company.

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Founder Prioritization Matrix
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GPP Heatmap to sort and tackle competing priorities

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