The Heartbeat

The best companies I work with have a heartbeat, they operate on a pace and a cadence and a rhythm that is perceptible to everyone in and around the company.

I am not talking about just product and engineering, although you can’t have a company with a heartbeat if you don’t have it in product and engineering. A company that doesn’t ship product regularly builds clogged arteries and that becomes pervasive in the culture and you end up with low morale, a lack of confidence, a revolving door, and a mess.

There are many ways to get this beat going and sustain it. There are techniques like agile product development, monthly and quarterly OKRs, weekly show and tells at the all-hands meeting, metrics meetings, etc, etc.

What it comes down to in my view is a mindset around getting stuff done on a regular cadence and then letting that rhythm become a wave and riding that wave.

And it starts with the CEO. They are the drummer in the band. They set the beat and keep the beat. And everyone plays around it.

If you have been in a company that has a heartbeat, you know what I am talking about.

If you haven’t, then you need to find one and join it and learn how it feels.

Becuase a heartbeat is what you want in your company.


Comments (Archived):

  1. aminTorres

    Not quite the same but also not that far off: Marc, who I used to work with at R/GA took product launches dates from Apple – as an example – mapped it to a calendar and added a drum beat to each date… the video is 5 mins long but worth the time.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks. Will check it out

    2. PhilipSugar

      What a great video……just great. We will have to see each other sometime.

      1. aminTorres

        I am in Brooklyn mostly on the weekends, I hang out most of the week in midtown south of central park. Do you live in VA? not sure why I am thinking that is the case.

        1. PhilipSugar

          MD and DE

  2. awaldstein

    I like this.I also firmly believe that a shared narrative, a community story that each and every person internalizes is where that heart meets the hearts of others.Without that you have extant messages and campaigns. With that you have true communications and as many channels for connection as you have people to connect.

    1. Joe Cardillo

      100%. Also, having this establishes trust and is a better risk management system than any set of rules.

  3. Matt Zagaja

    Whenever i suggest something like the above I usually get the feedback that I’m being too rigid.

  4. Pointsandfigures

    Cadence….expectations….culture. Heartbeat is a nice analogy because when the company has to speed up, the beat gets quicker. Slow down, it returns to normal. Companies can’t run on high speed 24/7. Sometimes you have to slow down and catch your breath.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      Culture being key here. If the culture is about sprints without a marathon point of view, then everyone gets lost in making the sprint but not necessarily in making the marathon. Even the best athletes I know take recovery time.

      1. PhilipSugar

        Here is the key to this.1. You set the features of your new release by amount of time each one takes.2. You don’t just say everything!!3. You pick based on time, and you don’t add unless you stretch the time.4. After you are “code complete” and things go to testing (you do test right?) developers get time to explore. If you don’t have bugs and that is your motivation not to have bugs, not a hammer tool.So if you are running right you have three cycles for each department:Normal, Sprint, ReflectionDevelopment: start of new release, going code complete, testing Testing/support: during coding, at code complete, after release Operations: in between releases, before and during release, when things are huming

  5. JamesHRH

    Like it.Getting the right stuff done regularly is what it’s all about.

  6. JoeK

    I’ve worked at one of those dot-com era giants that are now struggling to stay competitive in an industry with ever shrinking margins. Now that was a text book case of heart disease. The heart beat was irregular, mostly sluggish with the occasional burst of palpitations before and after each CEO exit, the circulation was poor, with oxygen rich blood never making it to the feet, leaving them necrotic with the only solution being toe amputation ( announced to the press as strategic realignment with the exit of legacy markets) – boy, did you pick a great analogy or what Fred!

    1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      hoo? 🙂

  7. jason wright

    a heartbeat first requires the presence of a heart.

    1. Twain Twain

      ‘It’s basically a bunch of autistic people wandering around’ — Michael Lewis (author of ‘Moneyball’) on Silicon Valley.http://uk.businessinsider.c…@@fredwilson:disqus — So that explains how they built mindless AI and have “Brotopia” problems.In 2012, in London, I asked Amit Singhal then SVP of Google Search: “Will and does the Star Trek search engine you’re building have a heart?”He answered, “That’s very deep for a first question. Journalists usually only ask those types of questions after we’ve all had a few drinks. No, our search engine won’t have a heart. We’re focussing on facts and figures.”[Notice the unconscious bias assumption that women aren’t engineers but something to do with media comms.]Fast forward to 2018 and it’s somewhat ironic to read Eric Schmidt say: “”Let’s say that this group believes Fact A and this group believes Fact B and you passionately disagree with each other and you are all publishing and writing about it and so forth and so on. It is very difficult for us to understand truth,” says Schmidt, referring to the search engine’s algorithmic capabilities.”So when it gets to a contest of Group A versus Group B — you can imagine what I am talking about — it is difficult for us to sort out which rank, A or B, is higher,” Schmidt says.*…Well, if Google has indexed facts+figures and measured people’s actual behavioral clicks, why is it difficult for them to rank the truth?!Why can’t any of the social media platforms deal with the emotionality in Trump’s and trolls’ words?Therein is why I now have almost no confidence in SV being able to solve the Natural Language problem.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        > “So when it gets to a contest of Group A versus Group B — you can imagine what I am talking about — it is difficult for us to sort out which rank, A or B, is higher,” Schmidt says.Suspicions confirmed — Eric is a bit slow on the uptake, even of his own, earlier realizations!There’s a partial solution in his 2011 Edinburgh Festival Keynote. It’s possible to improve on that in big ways, but he is already forgetting what he saw in 2011!!!

        1. Twain Twain

          Actually, the solution is to re-engineer Markov and Dirilecht.

    2. fredwilson

      that’s excellent

  8. jjj575


  9. Louis Warner

    Love this, totally agree, probably one of the most important posts I’ve read in a while.

  10. kenberger

    I can think of companies that have had heart attacks, too.Doing too much, too soon, etc.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s great. really great.

      1. kenberger

        well hey, i’m still reeling from not having coined “cryptogoods”.

  11. kidmercury

    I just listened to an episode of Patrick O’Shaughnessy podcast with guest nikhil kalghatgi where nikhil mentions product velocity is most important variable in predicting success, because it enables company to optimozeits learning of customer nerds and thus enables product market fit

  12. Sarah

    Sweetly phrased -If you haven’t, then you need to find one and join it and learn how it feels.-Thank you Fred. I have been trying to find strong words to describe the situation I am craving (as I navigate re-booting my career) and envision where I can find traction and contribute to the momentum. Am looking for the signals and finding it hard to discover from the outside. Any thoughts out there on what to look for?

    1. karen_e

      If you’re in NYC, tonight is Coinbase’s meetup … (I don’t work there, just saw it and thought it looked interesting)

      1. Sarah

        Thank you and Coinbase is one that I track. I am a bit remote (island on the westcoast of Canada) for many of these types of events although I schedule trips to overlap with similar meetups. Am curious – AVC seems and ideal place to ask – how other others filter through the gloss/hype/shenanigans to reveal an organization’s “pace and a cadence and a rhythm”.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Talk to people at the company to find out why they are there, what they believe is the most important reason for the company’s existence, what they think is the greatest accomplishment and what they would change if they could. What excites them? What is the greatest challenge? Look for themes.You have to piece together the story rather than the “pitch” story.Find out why people have left.As a recruiter, learning about a new client or potential client, one of my biggest mistakes has been not paying close enough attention to why people have left. You may have to read between the lines.

          1. Sarah

            As has been said in the comments here before – listen closely to what was not said. Key when you get to the stage where contact is made. I was thinking (but did not word that correctly) about beforehand when starting the search.I reconnected with former colleagues who have returned to a reconfigured company that we all left a decade ago. The new corporate version learned from our departures. It took awhile but the core is stronger and I am fortunate to have the view to that shift.Much appreciated answer.

  13. William Mougayar

    Parallel applies on a personal level to professional life. It does contribute to higher productivity.

    1. karen_e

      Yes – and funny how the school district calendar is pinned right next to my desk. Talk about a heartbeat!

  14. LE

    they operate on a pace and a cadence and a rhythm that is perceptible to everyone in and around the company.Reading this, to me, it meant the following:1) PointsandFigures example of the buzz of the trading floor and how he would interpret that and make trading decisions.2) You can always tell when you are in a restaurant early that will be busy later. There is a feeling that things are happening. Staff is buzzing about and getting ready. You can feel the success. 3) My old business didn’t need reports for me to know we were making money. It was the tempo and speed that employees moved at (to keep up with the work). That made everything more efficient and profitable. It was great to watch.With #3 that is why it often pays to take on work that doesn’t appear to be profitable (by numbers) on it’s face. Even lose money at it. It keeps things flowing in a company and busy employees simply work better and more efficiently.Also with #3 Psychology plays into all of this. Nobody wants to sit (or work) in an empty concert hall or ballpark. Give away tickets if you have to.

  15. Andrew Lee

    Is the CEO the drummer or the conductor?

    1. fredwilson

      both, but more drummer less conductor is a good mental model

  16. jason wright

    “…builds clogged arteries and that becomes pervasive in the culture and you end up with low morale, a lack of confidence, a revolving door, and a mess.”this can happen in any organisation. it just happened to Germany in Russia.there has to be a culture of merit. there’s nothing worse than an incestuous clique inside any organisation, society, nation,… or crypto community network.

    1. Girish Mehta

      Worth considering – what happened with Germany is the norm, not the exception in recent World Cup history.Fourth time in the last Five World Cups that the defending champion from previous World Cup has got knocked out in the group stage.A lesson in there, somewhere.

      1. jason wright

        yes absolutely. it is a powerful statistical signal. i’m calling it the Superglue Effect.winning the World Cup is the glue that bonds the participants (players, manager, the political hierarchy (in this example the DFB board), the media, and of course the public) together. it becomes almost impossible to enact change, to break the bond. the manager is unsackable. the players are undroppable. the DFB hierarchy is unchallengeable. the rot sets in because there is no one in position willing to embrace necessary change. it’s a cycle, and as you say, the fourth time in five tournaments. game theory supports the ‘rationality’ of making no changes, and we see the almost inevitable outcome.

  17. JordanHusney

    We started to make it easier for business teams and remote teams to operate on a steady heartbeat. Thank you @fredwilson:disqus, we’ll be sharing this post.

  18. sigmaalgebra

    Drumbeat? Rhythm? Let’s see:Can get that in a marching band, on lots of assembly lines, in a mechanical loom making square miles of broadcloth, in an 18th century army marching to the beat of the drummer boy into the guns of the enemy, etc. Much of the reason for rhythm in music is that it makes the music more predictable; same for staying in just one key. Alas, highly rhythmic music all in one key is boring, e.g., not expressive of reality, and already gotten rid of by the time of Bach.Mostly the good, big, important arrivals to a business don’t occur with a rhythm but, instead, with at best roughly stationary and independent increments. That’s called a Poisson process and describes when the next customer comes to a Web site, calls on the phone, arrives at the retail store, etc. There’s a nice result, in a book by W. Feller, called the renewal theorem that shows that if are receiving inputs from lots of sources, then these inputs will arrive essentially as a Poisson process. That’s not rhythmic.Chaos is not good and is usually not rhythmic. So, rhythmic is not the worst possible. But rhythmic is also not nearly the best; the best stuff is not rhythmic, either.Wanting, asking for, trying to engineer rhythmic might get rid of chaos and might seem to be getting something not just comforting, predictable, and secure but really the best. But, no, for the really important work, rhythmic is overly simplistic, deadening, and deadly and kills off the really important work.No masterpiece was done by painting by the numbers. Marching bands make at best second rate music. By the time the textile industry got factories of hundreds of thousands of square feet of beautifully engineered automatic looms turning out square miles of broadcloth, the high margins were out of the business. By the time the Germans got the beautifully engineered battleship Bismarck, the terror of the high seas, could shoot a 15″, maybe 18″, shell 20 miles, in one shot split and sink the British battleship Hood, by the time the Bismarck had been to sea only a few days some flimsy biplanes held together literally with string, disabled it, and soon it sank. A place for everything and everything in its place is a sign of deadening simplicity, separation from reality, and obsession and compulsion, not good, new stuff. Yup, the passenger trains with gorgeous Pullman cars and the gorgeous North Atlantic passenger steamships ran on time, with rhythm, but they were both soon out of business due to airplanes. Yes, eventually the airplanes ran on time also, with good rhythm, and then their margins were low. One of the tightest, most rhythmic operations I ever saw was a mainframe shop doing heads down medical claims data processing; I suspect that by now that shop is closed down with the claims submitted and processed by other means.Generally by the time an operation is rhythmic, it’s nearly obsolete and out of business!!!At times I’ve done some good work, but I never did it punching a time clock. When I started the work, no one, not even I, knew (A) just how good it would be or (B) just when it would be done. Usually, once I had the main idea, the work went quickly. But for what I’m doing today, it’s not what I wanted or expected last week: Instead two days ago apparently some operating system software corrupted some low level chip set firmware, and I’m correcting the situation; made surprisingly good progress in an all-night effort — no rhythm to that! That was when I was trying to correct a situation that a file system had marked a file as a directory, and I was trying to correct that. That was after I was unable to copy some files — reason was some software wrote the files with ownership some goofy user ID I had no information about. That was after I kept getting notifications that a file system was corrupted, kept running the software to fix the corruption, software that reported no problems and no fixes. Those problems and their fixes don’t come with rhythm!I’ve seen a lot of business and read a lot of business advice, but this is the first I’ve seen about rhythm. Sounds like advice from a general of an 18th century marching army.

  19. Adam Parish

    I’ll ask the dumb question. What’s an OKR?

      1. Adam Parish

        Thank you Fred!

  20. Naimish Gohil

    This is my favourite blog post from Fred in a while. It made me think about the ‘Turning the team’ post.

    1. fredwilson

      if you just keep writing, every now and then something good comes out 🙂

      1. Naimish Gohil

        +1 🙂

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Modest much?

    1. LE

      I just scanned that. I think it’s impressive. Who maintains it? Reason I say that is you are not a large company and the effort appears to be non-trivial.My feeling is that that type of document is something that added value to your company when you sold it a few years ago. I am not sure most people think like me along these lines but I know that to be the case. (The reality show guy that you don’t watch (Marcus Lemonis) would be blown away by it.)Btw when I clicked on one pdf it says ‘proprietary and confidential’ but yet it’s publicly accessible and google has it indexed… <– The type of thing that only I would notice on a quick check.

      1. PhilipSugar

        We do. Yes, some gets taken from PowerPoints. It is our show of strength.

      2. PhilipSugar

        We also publish uptime and response time: http://www.smartbutton-status.comWhen you are selling SaaS you get three questions: It doesn’t cost you much to add a new customer, I just want to pay that, and why do I pay every month, and what if I want a new feature?You even see Fred say it I just want open source! I mean that’s great if you are the beneficiary of people that are willing to contribute their time and talent for no treasure. But eventually most of us get families and bills.What you are buying is those 50 releases requested by our user community, or built to make our software fast, strong and safe.We run it. No small task.Want to know if we will entertain requests?Here is our proof of all of those. Drop the mike.

        1. karen_e

          This is a great example of putting the value proposition right out in the open. Capabilities + Impact + Proof … and then you get to hit them with the Cost. 🙂

        2. LE

          How is Aimia addressing the issue of branding? Because it appears ‘smartbutton’ isn’t used anymore but yet it continues to appear on these pages? (I see there isn’t a trademark for smartbutton for that matter that I can find).I guess I am really old because I remember a time when corporations didn’t want open source exactly for the reason they are saying now they want to know why they have to pay.For example RedHat made a business out of corporations who wanted to pay for accountability.I never had any problem paying for service (Paid both SGI and Sun and it was great you paid $x per year and got someone on the phone to solve the problem you had hardware or software).Free is great when you have a great deal of time on your hands or you want to leach off of other people and in many cases take advantage of them.You would be surprised at how many people contact us and want help using a competitive service and feel they are entitled to do so (like ‘use your bathroom but not be a customer’ thinking).

  21. Eric Friedman

    Being a part of this kind of shipping cadence is unlike anything I have ever experienced before – there is a constant hum in the office, the product feels alive, people are excited for the latest and greatest, and morale skyrockets. It starts to help with recruiting, future vision, investors, and all facets of the business. I was lucky enough to be a part of this activity – and I have always described the “pre” moment to this phase as “Building the Machine” because its about finding the right people to build the machine, to build the business. Once you have assembled that crew – you energize the group and get the first heartbeat.

  22. koolhead17

    +100, as usual another gold. :DCEO is more like an orchestrator. He/She has to ensure the whole system is working, starting from team member and moving to customers. His/her attitude can make/break everything.