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4 Columns: My GPS for Startup Land

by Dave McLaughlin, CEO & Cofounder of Vsnap

Early-stage startup life is complex and fast-moving, and I’m always looking for simplifying paradigms to help me organize and manage the chaos. Right now the one I use every day is the idea that at Vsnap there are only four columns of activity, and everything fits into one of the four. Or it doesn’t fit. 

I think — actually I obsess — about Team, Product, Users, and Financing. Every day we’re trying to move the ball downfield in those four areas. Some days it’s a foot or two, some days you find a hole in the line and make them move the chains. 

The last few weeks saw big progress on Team and Product, and now we have another job description out there for a Java developer with 5 years experience. With that progress under way, I now get to start putting a little more time and energy into Users and Financing.

This simple system does three things for me. Externally, it helps me organize inputs and outputs. Internally, it helps me focus. 


Startup Land is outrageously fertile, creative country. Seems like every day some brilliant person is offering insightful, provocative, dreamy twists on your strategy and your vision. I need a little system to take those ideas in and see where they fit - or don’t. 

I often felt this way when I was making films and plays. The designers, the actors, the producers, the craft services kid - ideas come from everywhere. Some of them can seriously amplify your work. Others can totally kill it. It’s really hard to distinguish between the two — unless you have some simple filters that you run these suggestions through. 


At a startup you are always communicating your ideas, always educating some prospective partner, investor, hire, whatever.  Especially in these super early days, when both feet are planted firmly in mid-air, we need constructs that create coherence. Because without comprehension, there can be no oomph. 

"Dave, what’s happening with Vsnap?"

"A lot. Let me tell you about four things. Team, Product, Users, Financing. That’s my world right now."


Lastly, I use this little system to orient myself at different points during the day. There’s lots and lots of research about how much time it takes people to get back to a task once they are interrupted. Well my world is full of interruptions — often good ones, often urgent ones (not always the same) — and I can’t tell you how many times I finish a phone call or hit send on a time-sensitive email response and I think…what is the highest value thing for me to focus on now?  On my white board I see a hundred things. On a piece of scrap paper, I scribble four simple words. Team, Product, Users, Financing.  

And I move the ball. 

I know it’s so simple. I just find there’s so much power in simplicity. 

I can’t remember where I heard this but somebody defined power as the ability to turn your dreams into reality. 

Simplicity helps with that. But we live in a complex world. So I think of simplicity as the navigation system.  

We’re a three-person company with a big, audacious mission to reinvent the way that people share moments and messages, the way they exchange ideas and advance their dreams, the way they come to feel closer and more connected with family and friends and all the other folks who matter in their lives. We need simple systems to help us navigate and move fast. 

What about you — how do you navigate it all? Consider sharing a little of your hard-earned wisdom here — maybe we can transform this post into a resource for all the other crazy people who, like us, want to change the world! 

Filed under dave blogs 4 columns startups team product users financing