Abe Lincoln, sharpening axes, and startups

I was having office hours today with one of the startups I work with, and asked the founder how he was going on sales.  He responded by saying that things were slow, as he was preparing thoroughly for the next phase.  He quoted Abraham Lincoln:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

I was skeptical – in a startup, you should always be selling, revising your sales pitch, exploiting whatever tools you have available to iterate your way to achieving product-market fit.

Back in the day when I was a software performance engineer, we had an aphorism we called “The five P’s of Performance”:

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

But in my dotage, I’m leaning toward the leaner:

Bugger the boxing, let’s just pour the concrete

… because in a startup, before you achieve product-market fit, everything that introduces delay and prevents you from learning more from your customers is a missed opportunity. Too much planning, axe-sharpening, or boxing-building will prevent you from learning as quickly as possible and could potentially result in the construction of too much infrastructure, or preparing for a reality that doesn’t yet exist.

So, here’s my take:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first half-hour buying a chainsaw, the next half-hour chopping down the tree, and the next five hours talking to customers to figure out what’s going to make them buy (more of) my product.