Always Improve, Never Stop, Never Pause, Never Appreciate

28 September 2015 by Mathias Meyer

Building out a company and a business has been my greatest challenge so far. The company’s mission is built around continuous integration and continuous improvement, the constant drive of always getting better at what you do.

As engineers, we’re trained to fix bugs, to build out new features, to hold postmortems where we analyze what didn’t work and how we can improve things.

As founders, we follow a similar pattern. We have a ton of ideas on what we want to improve, where we want to get better, what part of the product still isn’t good enough, how many more customers we want in the next 12 months. After all, our product only needs one more feature and it will finally break through, right?

Scaling up a business is, at least in the early stages, a lot about iterating on the product. We strive towards acquiring more and more customers by building more and more features, and we want to continue doing that, just like we did in the early days, because it worked so well.

Do you know that feeling? You’re never fully happy with what you have, because you have so many things that you like to improve around the product and around the company. Once you’ve fixed one thing, you move on to the next. It’s a continuous cycle, and vicious one. Nobody deserves to be fully happy until you’ve fixed more things.

I’ve been in this very same cycle, and it’s a downward spiral, especially dangerous when everyone thinks that way. Remember, as a founder, you set the tone in the company more than anyone else. If you always insist on improving, never pausing, everyone else will.

What’s missing in this picture? In the picture, we run from one thing to the next. We’re always running, we barely look back, because we feel looking back isn’t yet warranted, not before we do a few more things. Looking back would feel like standing still, like taking a deep breath, and we don’t have time for that. It’s a competitive market, the next pivot is just around the corner, there are always more reasons to keep on running. You keep running towards an unknown future, barely appreciating what you have.

And therein lies the problem. Appreciation feels undeserved, it feels like you’re stalling. You can’t allow yourself to marvel at the thing you’ve built for fear of wasting time not improving that thing, for fear of appearing selfish or bragging.

It’s good to push further and improve what you have.

But if you never take the time to appreciate where you are, you’ll be running indefinitely, and you’ll expect everyone on your team to do the same thing. If you don’t pause to celebrate achievements, neither will they.

Travis CI is now a team of 23 people, it has more than 2000 customers all over the world, and it’s running more than 230.000 build jobs every day. The running self would tell us that we were probably lucky to get here and that we need to continue running to make sure that we can keep and grow those numbers.

A different kind of me can now pause, take a deep breath and be incredibly proud of what we’ve built so far, regardless of where it’s going in the future. This new me I only got to know this year, and I’ve even started accepting the seemingly selfish thought that I had a part in achieving that.

It’s okay and necessary to give yourself credit for something you’ve done, but to get to that point, you need to stop running every once in a while. Taking a moment and a step back to reflect and appreciate what you’ve already achieved can be a much more powerful and energizing experience than always looking for more things to improve.

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