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This article was published on October 15, 2020

Why you should build your company ‘outside in’

Don't be an amateur

Why you should build your company ‘outside in’

Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

A friend of mine is fixing up his house. He gave me a tour to show how everything is going and what his plans are for the space. We ended up on the roof, where I noticed the window frames needed ‘some’ work… as in, they were completely beyond saving.

I pointed it out, and he shrugged and explained he should’ve done those years ago but didn’t get around to it, so now he’ll be forced to replace them entirely — a much more difficult undertaking.

“But I’m an amateur builder, working on the ‘inside out’ principle,” he said. “Experts work from the outside in: you first fix the outside of the house, so it’s dry and isolated and fundamentally sound. Then you move inside and work your way down. Amateurs like me, however, want to be comfortable and work on the things we see and enjoy in our house. So we start from the inside out: we fix the flooring, walls, and lights, and only then do we start on the fundamentals.”

[Read: How my childhood ‘startup’ failed miserably]

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It might not be smart, but I bet a lot of us can relate to this. Many times, I have been in a situation where my impatience allowed me to ignore the fundamental weakness of an object, structure, or project — as I was so eager to make it work — that I went ahead with it anyway. Then, when things fall apart, you curse yourself for not having invested in the fundamentals earlier.

Another friend of mine is starting a new company. He’s involved me in finding the right name and the design of the logo, tagline, and coming up with an overall brand. My involvement is only giving feedback on sketches every now and then, but I enjoy being able to help.

Then, at some point, he said, “I don’t really know what the company is going to be about — or even whether it will even be a company. But I like the name, logo, and branding, and I’m sure it will lead to something.”

Now, hearing this from someone else might have caused me some concern, but my friend is a successful serial entrepreneur, and this approach has always led him to success.

Starting with the fun stuff like finding a logo and name might sound simplistic, but my entrepreneur friend is no amateur. This is him working from the outside in. His branding exercise is about the fundamentals of the business.

Sure some branding can be superficial, only following the fundamentals of the business. But in some cases, the branding comes to define the product. Steve Jobs famously paid an unprecedented amount of money for NEXT’s logo design, way before knowing what product the company was going to create.

I guess there are two learnings here: find out what the fundamentals of your company are, and then work from the outside in. Just be aware that to some people, it’ll look like you’re working from the inside out.

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