[Blog] Beware the last 2 percent of work to startup milestones

The last steps toward "getting good enough" can be the very hardest by far.

[Blog] Beware the last 2 percent of work to startup milestones
Prepare for the last 2% of the work will cause you at least 50% of strain


The last 2% of work in startup life will cause you most of the strain.

I've written about the "Law of Schrödinger's Cat" that describes how innovation teams live between the progress already made and the requirements left to fulfill to produce something that's "good enough."

But in startups, this principle goes even further.

You have must-have milestones. But you lack subject experts and infrastructure to help you pull it off.

So it all comes back to you. Your work. Your strain.

And yes, you learn. But you can't be an expert at everything. It will be hard.

Pulling through takes a supportive, selfless team and relentless willpower.

How this looks


The early learning in startup work definitely takes effort. But I expected it.

In my case, for example, I had to learn the lingo of a new space, find ways to stand up a company with very limited budget, take on tasks that I hadn't had to tackle before, and more.

And that's how I built a core ERP system from scratch when I realized that even the cheapest dedicated ERP system you can buy was still over-engineered.

That's how I created a chart of accounts (a tool that accountants need for professional work) from scratch for the first time.

I enhanced a brand style guide, served as photoshoot director, created a corporate website and sales collateral, and on and on.

These things were new and not always easy. But they were also a blast to learn and make happen.


And then, of course, there has been the core of my work. That has happened almost as if by magic and has reminded me that I do have some real expertise to offer.

Whether it was describing an entire business in a few hours, identifying top assumptions to de-risk, creating pitch decks, assessing the competitive landscape, size opportunities, and more, it was "full-stack" business design.

No problem. I got this!

Get to good enough

Ah, but then there are the things that are just a slog and must happen and are not remotely in your area of expertise. That's where 2% of work cause 50%+ of the strain.

The topics will differ for you and me. But for example, some of mine have included:

  • Dealing with Microsoft login and anti-spam settings in admin consoles
  • Getting an end user license agreement (EULA) just right content-wise and implemented efficiently, just so that people can roll their eyes at it and click past it
  • Project managing arcane software issues whose solutions won't give us tons of extra benefits but rather just make things work the way they are supposed to (in this case, even with good, expert partners on whom we could rely)

All of these are absolute must-dos. And for us, they are urgent must-dos. But they are hard.

Advice for friends

What might you do about this?

I haven't experienced this problem too often in corporate innovation yet.

That may be because corporate innovation teams tend to do relatively similar work over and over:

  • At first, putting together the team and setting its agenda are hard but–like my "learning" topics–they are also quite fun. It's the promise of starting something new.
  • Then things get easy, especially if the team has a pre-set method that works for most projects. The team is executing work that they have finely honed.
  • Finally, there often are experts to call in for exceptional situations. Tehy can relieve problems with the kinds of "2%" situations I describe.

But there are still situations where you may encounter the same problem.

The biggest one is the "project handoff" to some other team.

If you are a "front-end" innovation team, you may have another team available that figures out the kinks needed to make your de-risked new business be easy to scale.

On the other hand, if you hold onto new businesses all the way until a "regular" business team takes them over, you have to iron out all the kinks that prevent scalability.

Either way, those handoffs inevitably cause tons of trouble.

So my best advice is:

Expect the last step of your roadmap, where you prepare to hand off work, to be massively harder than one "should" expect.

- Plan for significant slack time and emotional energy to tackle it.

- Get your stakeholders ready to support you with resources and air cover when the handoff inevitably turns out harder than expected.

- See if you can engineer a "gradual" handover, where eventual owners of your work can be involved early and start to smooth the skids for taking on your work much earlier, effectively allowing you to do two efforts in parallel.


Further reading

My post on the "Law of Schrödinger's Cat."

AI notice

I created one or more visuals included in this post with the help of AI.